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School resource officer roles

Posted at 9:36 AM, Mar 01, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-01 22:51:44-05

NAPLES, Fla. -- They walk the halls of your child's school, gain their trust in the lunchroom, and maybe even coach them in a sport or activity.  But we're not talking about teachers or administrators.  We're talking about men and women who wear a badge.

A recent viral video from a South Carolina classroom sparked controversy across the country.  The video led to a deputy's dismissal and questions about what those officers do in your child's school.

"We hope that here in the community, that that isn't something that fosters or dampen the relationship that we've made for generations," says Captain Beth Jones with the Youth Relations Bureau.

Collier County began assigning deputies to schools back in 1977.  "Which is quite an accomplishment, because back in 1977, it was almost unheard of to have law enforcement in the school."

Deputies assigned to Collier schools are put through more rigorous training than their counterparts on other beats.  That includes active shooter training and spotting signs of mental health issues among students.

May 18th of last year, chaos broke out at Gulf Coast High School in Naples, where a senior prank went awry, sending people scurrying.  Although students claim they tried to diffuse the situation, deputies intervened and were forced to use pepper spray.

Capt. Jones says youth relations deputies step in only as a last resort.  "The deputy is never involved with discipline.  When the incident is something that can turn into something that is beyond discipline, that can turn violent, or something that can turn into a criminal offense, that's when the deputies become involved."

But these deputies are mingling with students more often than just patrolling the hallway in uniform.  They immerse themselves in day-to-day school activities so they can earn students' trust.

"For example, we have a few youth relation deputies that coach, we have a few youth relation deputies that are club sponsors," says Capt. Jones.

Over the years, those relationships with students have paid dividends.  Collier's school deputies have handled everything from stolen iPhones to human trafficking cases.  "Part of what makes them an asset is the amount of time they spend in the school allows them to create relationships with students, where some of these things like human trafficking can come to the forefront," says Tim Kuntz, Collier's Director of School Security.

The Collier County Sheriff's Office foots the entire bill for the youth relations deputies.  But district officials do have some input in how the deputies interact with students.  "Anytime there's a situation that arises where we believe they could be better trained, then we have that conversation, we offer our suggestions, but again they're their employees," says Kuntz.

With years of proven training and strong relationships with the student body, Kuntz believes tense situations in the classroom can easily be diffused, but acknowledges every case is different.  "Occasionally bad things happen, they happen in society, they happen at the mall and they happen at school."

If they do, district officials can rest easy knowing they have highly trained deputies ready to respond.

Collier County's Youth Relations Bureau was named agency of the year in 2014 by Florida Association of School Resource Officers.

The Lee County Sheriff's Office has provided deputies in schools since the late 80's.

Charlotte County and the Punta Gorda Police Department also team up to provide security in Charlotte County Schools.