Florida's armed guardian training underway

Posted at 12:09 PM, Jun 11, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-11 17:34:23-04

BARTOW, Fla. -- Guardian training in Polk County is well underway.

ABC Action News was invited by both the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and the Polk County School District to witness history in the making.

Monday, dozens of applicants were undergoing training to be the first armed guardians to watch over public schools in Florida.

While this is the first round of applicants, PCSO says it hasn’t been hard to find good, qualified applicants. At least 130 guardians in training have been located, in which only three people have been disqualified.

That includes 23-year-old Jocelyn Rodriguez, who says the too-often shootings aired on TV got to her.

“It’s heartbreaking, every single time, it’s a tragedy,” she said.

Rodriguez, among more than 100 others has a degree in criminal justice and a family history in law enforcement. She hopes to follow in their footsteps by making a difference.

“It’s not necessarily if it will make a difference, because it will,” Rodriguez says the training has been rigorous but she’s learned a lot along the way. For instance, each situation is a reactive situation, and that she must react.

“It’s a job that can change the outcome of a very active shooter situation,” she said.

Trainees go through a process of handgun handling and rifle handling as well as written tests. The sheriff’s office says applicants must pass with a score of 85% to get the job.

Before the Polk County School District approved having armed guardians in school, Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd, was against it. 

Monday, Byrd admitted this was a conversation she wasn’t ready to have, but now understands it may be what’s best for the students.

“Our parents will know that when they send their children to us, they are going to be a lot safer,” Byrd said confidently. 

Standing watch, a Parkland parent who received terrible news earlier in 2018 when his daughter, Meadow was shot and killed at school.

“It would have saved my daughter’s life,” Andy Pollack, referring to Polk County’s armed guardian program, the first of it’s kind to be implemented into public schools.

“You go to where the shots are coming from. You don’t hide behind a wall like the deputy did in froward,” Pollack said.

If applicants pass testing, 90 qualified guardians will be assigned to elementary schools across Polk County.

Middle and high schools will continue to use school resource officers from law enforcement agencies. 

Polk Schools says, in the beginning, the final count for applicants was about 510 candidates. 

Applicants needed to pass a background check and psychological exams to move forward.

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office says it hasn’t had trouble finding qualified applicants, attributing their success to the culture of the county.

Jocelyn says she hopes she is one of the trainees that will make it through, until the end.

“It’s either going to deter a person from actually attempting anything that may cost the lives of others, but at the same time it’s also a reactive type of situation so if god forbid and hopefully not if something does occur we as guardians are there to stop, avoid and end the situation as fast as we possibly can.” She said.

New allocation for state Safe Schools funding will cover most of the employment costs associated with the School Safety Guardian Program.

The state is providing an additional $3.3 million in Safe Schools funding.

The program will cost about $3.69 million. As a result, the district says they will be paying about $400,000 using the districts general fund.