Sarasota sheriff calls for armed veterans, retired officers in schools

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Sarasota County’s sheriff is calling on Florida lawmakers to change the state’s concealed weapons law so that armed retired law enforcement officers and military veterans can be posted on school campuses to improve security.

Sheriff Tom Knight said Tuesday that his agency already supplies manpower and training to the district, but he believes more can still be done.

“We have been looking at opportunities over the last two years to help school officials develop a practical and achievable safety plan for the district,” the sheriff said in a press release outlining his plan. “My recommendation is for the school to consider implementing a quasi-school security program that puts retired law enforcement and military veterans on Sarasota County campuses.”

The sheriff said specially trained deputies are already available as school resource officers to every middle and high school in the county.  It was not immediately clear how this new suggestion would impact that program. 

In Knight’s plan, it would still be up to every school to select and hire the security personnel, with his deputies providing specialized training in firearms, defensive tactics and active-shooter scenarios.

“This is not an overnight solution but it’s a good place to start,” the sheriff continued. “Many of these veterans have basic training, have managed major incidents and have knowledge of weaponry and tactics. More often than not, these retirees are looking for a way to care for the children in their community and this program is a sustainable solution.”

RELATED: Sarasota seeks input on school safety

Parents, administrators, and lawmakers have been scrambling to identify and fix holes in schools’ security since last week’s attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.  Adding veterans to campuses has been a popular suggestion on social media, though it’s not clear if it would have made a difference in that case.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said last week that the Parkland campus had an armed officer who never encountered the suspected shooter during the attack.

Either way, Knight said, the state’s concealed weapons laws would have to change in order to allow weapons on school grounds.

“If our lawmakers are willing to make the proper changes for the safety of Florida students, I will support their decision and stand ready to take action,” he added.

There was no immediate comment from the school district on the proposal, though Knight said he’d discussed it with superintendent Dr. Todd Bowden “who agrees this can be a win-win for everyone.”