Judd: Proposed program arming teachers a 'force multiplier' in a 'great emergency'

"And I promise you in the event of a great emergency, they will be glad the Marshals are there to save your children."

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd took one of the most controversial elements of a proposed school safety plan head-on.

After all, it's modeled after his county's Sentinel program.

"When you look at the governor's plan he put together, I can tell you from the bottom of my heart that one school resource deputy on a campus, plus one for every 1,000 students on a campus is a staggering amount of money," Judd said while speaking before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday. "And I can't speak for every community, but I can speak for most of them, if alone not sustainable on local budgets. But again, it's a force multiplier. that's what the Marshal Program is all about. And I promise you in the event of a great emergency, they will be glad the Marshals are there to save your children."

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Judd touted the program as the committee considered an amendment removing the Florida Sheriff's Marshall Program from a larger school safety bill, dubbed The Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School Public Safety Act, which in part would:

  • Raise the legal age for purchasing a firearm in Florida.
  • Impose a three-day waiting period for most gun purchases.
  • Increase school safety measures, including creating the Office of Safe Schools and the Commission on School Safety and Security.
  • Include the words "seize and hold firearms" from those deemed a danger to themselves and others.

Polk County's program

The Sentinel Program, which the Marshall Program is modeled after, allows trained school employees to carry a concealed weapon on campus in instances of an active shooter. Participants undergo 132 hours of training, a psychological exam, a criminal background check and a drug test.

The program is currently at Southeastern University in Lakeland and will be brought to Webber International University in Babson Park. A third Polk County school is interested, said Judd, adding that five private schools "are showing a distinct interest in this."

"Their sole purpose is to spring into action when there is an active shooter or an active assailant," Judd said. "There could be someone with a knife slashing kids."

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Lawmakers react

Democrats on the committee supported removing the amendment.

"I've yet to hear anyone who works in the school system, who works in the school system on a daily basis, get up and say this is exactly what we want," said Sen. Bobby Powell (D - West Palm Beach), who added that he would support the overall measure if the Marshall Program was removed. "I haven't heard a school resource officer, a teacher, coach say this is what we need."

Sen. Kelli Stargel (R - Lakeland) stressed that the program is voluntary.

"We're trying to be proactive and look forward here," she said. "The reality is we're in a world now where we're looking at people who are organized. We need to have as many people who are qualified, who can come from several different angles, to take out an individual. We're facing a very different future. I want our children to feel safe. One person against one person with a gun is not enough."

Sen. Audrey Gibson (D - Jacksonville) urged lawmakers to not have a knee-jerk reaction to the Parkland shooting.

"I don't think parents want their children going to prison instead of school," she said. "Teachers did not get their certification to go packin' at school every day."

After more than an hour of testimony from Judd and other speakers, the amendment to remove the program failed.

The committee later approved the larger school safety bill, appropriating $10 million for it. Senators also approved a bill that would remove the home address of a mass violence victim from public record.

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