GAINESVILLE – In the wake of the tragic school shooting in Connecticut, local law enforcement agencies and Alachua County Public Schools are forming a joint work group on school safety.

Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell, Gainesville Police Chief Tony Jones, Alachua Police Chief Joel DeCoursey, Jr., High Springs Police Chief James S. Holley, Superintendent Dan Boyd and other representatives from local law enforcement agencies and the school district met Tuesday and agreed to establish the work group to address emergency training, facilities improvements, security procedures, crisis communication and other safety-related issues. The group will be coordinated by Lt. David Lee, who is currently in charge of the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) School Resource Officer (SRO) program.

“This will be our number one priority and nothing will be off the table for the work group,” said Sheriff Darnell. “The safety of children is our focus for the new year. That’s our resolution.”

“It’s critical that we work together on this so that we can come up with effective, long-term strategies to address safety issues in our schools,” said Chief Jones.

Law enforcement and district officials also agreed that one of work group’s highest priorities will be to petition state and federal leaders for the funding needed to place a school resource officer in all schools. Currently there are SROs in Alachua County’s middle and high schools.

Chief DeCoursey and his officers spend a lot of time in schools. He says the presence of an SRO offers multiple benefits.

“Having that high visibility can minimize threats and provide peace of mind for students, parents and staff,” he said. “But being on campus every day also allows officers to develop a rapport with students that can prevent problems in the first place. Students learn that the police are there to help them.”

The group also agreed to work with local mental health experts to seek more state support for mental health services.

Such cooperation with partners throughout the county will be essential to promoting school security.

“I think it’s paramount,” said Chief Holley. “It’s what schools are all about. To educate young people and to keep them safe, it’s essential to have the cooperation of parents and the entire community.”

In the meantime, law enforcement agencies will be boosting their presence at local schools. Boyd said the district appreciates their ongoing support.

“They immediately responded to our call for help and advice, just as they’ve always done,” he said. “I’m confident that as a result of this joint effort, schools will be even safer for our students.”

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