As a proud graduate of the FBI National Academy, I quietly rolled my eyes when former Volusia County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Michelle Newman was anointed Director of Safety and Security at Volusia County Schools.
In my view, Ms. Newman is infinitely qualified for the role – two master’s degrees, rose to the level of Captain at VCSO (before being demoted to lieutenant in 2012), yada, yada, yada – she is head and shoulders above the farcical ruse that posed as “school security” before her appointment, but Director Newman is most decidedly not an FBI National Academy graduate – and it is not because she wasn’t given the opportunity to earn that coveted credential.
That wasn’t an issue before – but it is now – and the circumstances should not be brushed aside as the School Board takes steps to create its own police department.
It may be ancient history – but it is history nonetheless.
Normally, one’s failure to complete the most prestigious law enforcement leadership training program in the world due to conduct violations would be an insurmountable hurdle for any police executive wishing to advance their career.
But not at Volusia County Schools.
Here, senior administrators apparently ignore the results of a background investigation (if there was one) – then propose spending scarce public funds to stand-up a law enforcement agency from scratch – simply to allow Ms. Newman “direct access to computer-aided dispatch communications to run background checks and license plates to assist in school-based investigations.”
Oh, did I mention it will also allow Ms. Newman “direct access” to special risk benefits and the gravitas of calling herself “Chief of Police”?
My God. . .
According to Sheriff Michael Chitwood, the cost of hiring, training, and equipping a single law enforcement officer is approximately $120,000 – yet those in the Ivory Tower of Power at Volusia County District Schools (who know exactly squat about the requirements for starting and maintaining a police department) would have us believe “additional costs would be minimal.”
“There will be costs but it will be minimal in comparison to agencies who truly start a new police agency,” Newman said.
Specifics? Fuggitaboutit. . .
In typical fashion, this half-baked, poorly planned idea was put before the Volusia County School Board as a “Non-Ministerial/Ceremonial Resolution” without any announcement or discussion – with the preconceived recommendation of Interim Superintendent Carmen Balgobin.
Perhaps more disturbing, the resolution was brought forward with no background information, budget impact statement, proposed policies, operational procedures, protocols, job descriptions and classifications, equipment needs, professional standards, use of force considerations, organizational matrix, written directives, fiscal procedures, rules governing conduct and discipline, recruitment and retention strategies, selection and training requirements, weapons and firearms policies, investigative standards, juvenile arrests and detention protocols, criminal intelligence limitations, complaint processing, prisoner transport, holding area security, interviews and interrogations, communications needs and policies, records retention, the secure maintenance of evidence and property (including narcotics, weapons and currency), body armor requirements, body-worn camera policies and video retention, technology requirements, internal audit schedule, supervisory and command protocols, use of confidential informants, undercover operations, vehicle operations policies, etc., etc., etc.
And a thousand other administrative, operational, and high liability considerations that every law enforcement executive thinks about every hour of every day.
Given the fact the Volusia County School Board has repeatedly cried the “Poormouth Blues” – looting reserve funds to make the frayed ends meet – and fighting tooth-and-nail any reasonable attempt by Volusia United Educators to seek a living wage for teachers, paraprofessionals, and staff – along with openly ignoring internal warnings of a looming financial crisis – why would they even consider this ludicrous suggestion?
Just when it appeared this goofy ‘resolution’ would be shot through the grease at Tuesday’s meeting of the Volusia County School Board – member Ruben Colon boldly stepped forward in the public interest to table the matter until additional information and discussion could be had at a workshop.
While I may not agree with Mr. Colon on every decision – he is a man of great integrity, who genuinely cares about the needs of students, teachers, and staff – a committed elected official who is quick to respond to questions and willing to discuss the issues in an open and transparent way.
I respect that.
In my view, creating “The Volusia County School District Police Department” out of whole cloth simply to obtain access to state and national criminal information databases is a massive overreaction – especially considering that all current School Resource Officers are already authorized to obtain that information – literally at the stroke of a computer key.
Kudos to Ruben Colon and the members of the Volusia County School Board for having the presence of mind to see this ill-informed sham for what it is – and taking the logical step of postponing this incredibly expensive proposition until the myriad details can be fleshed out in the light of day.
That’s what fiscal responsibility and conscientious leadership looks like.
Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal