HIALEAH, FLA. (WSVN) - It’s back to school for Miami-Dade County and officials have stepped up security, putting an emphasis on the safety of hundreds of thousands of students.
Every Miami-Dade school has opened their doors Monday with an armed School Resource Officer.
“We are committed to provide more than 100 Miami-Dade Police Department officers,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez.
The officers came as a bit of a relief to both parents and students.
“I feel safer now,” said one student.
“During class, you don’t have to be scared,” said another student. “You don’t have to feel unprotected.”
“With everything that’s been going on, I think it’s just better that the officers are here,” said a parent.
“It’s awesome,” said parent Veronica Clark. “I just hope and pray that it lasts throughout the entire school year so that the students feel safe about coming to school everyday.”
“Obviously you see a police presence here, so that’s great,” said parent Jaime Escobar.
As part of the new Marjory Stoneman Douglas School Safety Act, every school in the state must have an SRO. However, since the law passed only a few months ago, a county the size of Miami-Dade faced quite a few challenges with the tight deadline; including how to pay for all of these officers.
“Very little time, very little resources to make sure that we can make this happen,” said City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez.
Gimenez said the state government only gave them about $8 million, while the county is on the hook for the rest.
“It was simply not possible to hire the number of additional officers needed before the school year starts,” said Gimenez, “so we worked to find the resources to pay current officers on an overtime basis to meet this critical need.”
The emphasis on safety during this new school year will not stop at armed guards. Fifteen-thousand high definition cameras got installed at all schools across the county and will be connected to a central command post.
Also introduced this year: the Raptor system. It allows school personnel to check the criminal history of each visitor.
“All parents and community members that visit our school will need to show a state ID as they enter our campus,” said South Hialeah Elementary Principal Linette Tellez.
The system allows or denies entry and keeps track of who’s coming and going.
Some schools also reduced points of entry, and with the new changes comes some getting used to for parents.
“Once people understand what the rules are and why, and it’s for the safety of the kids,” said Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina, “everyone is going to understand.”
Also mandated under the new law: active shooter training before each school year.
“We’ve been training our officers on active shooters and how to respond to those situations with an emphasis on stopping the killing and then stopping the dying,” said Miami-Dade Police Department Director Juan Perez.
After finances, logistics and technology were squared away during last minute meetings and negotiations with city leaders; Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said the goal has been met, and all schools will have an armed guard all year long.
“We have 100 percent complete deployment to schools,” he said. “That means one police officer in every single school in Miami-Dade. That is a feat that was not accomplished in any other school system in the state of Florida.”
The county and municipalities stepped in to help with additional police protection.
“First week of school, especially the first days, are hectic. Kids are coming back, but in the sense of us being ready and in place, we’re all in place,” said Hialeah Chief of Police Sergio Velazquez.
“We have won that victory today. Every school is staffed with a police officer,” said Miami-Dade Schools Police Chief Edwin Lopez.
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