District, Sheriff’s Office: School safety joint top priority | News, Sports, Jobs

Safety is a top priority going into the school year in Lee County.

“Students come to school to learn, to see their favorite teacher, or staff member and to make memories with their friends,” School Superintendent Dr. Christopher Bernier said at a joint press conference with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office today. “Students should never have to worry about their safety while at school. Parents should also never have to worry about their child’s safety while they are in our buildings, on our fields and on our buses. We want families to know while their kids are at school, we are doing everything in our power to keep them safe and support their academic achievement and overall success.”

He said he has great confidence in the district’s safety practices as they begin the school year Wednesday.

“A large part is due to all of our local law enforcement agencies. We are ready for day one,” Bernier said.

The message Sheriff Carmine Marceno shared was that anyone who tries to “Harm our children, they have to go through us first.”

Marceno said in addition to what the sheriff’s office and school district have done to prepare, they also need the community’s help.

“We need your help, too. ‘See it. say it Make the call.’ it works,” he said. “Talk to the SRO (school resource officers), or call a tip into the hotline and remain anonymous. Do not ignore a red flag. Parents and guardians, most importantly, talk to your children. Times have changed. Children need to know the power of cell phones and social media.”

He said Lee County’s SRO program has been nationally recognized as one of the best.

“Building relationships with youth is vital to our future,” Marceno said.

School Resource Officers provide constant coverage in every school and had summer activities and daily training, such as active shooting with all deputies, EMS and fire district personnel to maximize efficiency, Marceno said.

“We will not ignore red flags, or take any light of any threat real, or fake,” he said.

The sheriff’s office recently purchased virtual reality goggles enabling them to import the layout of any school and train for any situation.

“This training can be done anywhere,” he said, adding that the technology has been proven to resolve and prevent crime. “We will spare no expense.”

Another tool to better ensure the safety of students is through the office’s Real Time Intelligence Center, which was paid for by confiscated drug money.

“At the click of a button our detectives and analysts in the Real Time Intelligence Center have access to any school camera system,” Marceno said.

Those detectives can provide information immediately to deputies at the scene, as well as search social media for any details regarding an incident. The team monitored social media throughout the summer for red flags.

Marceno provided an example of how safety of students is of the utmost importance, citing an incident in September 2021, where Marceno said an investigation was done regarding an alleged school threat at Harns Marsh Middle School in Lehigh Acres.

Two brothers, ages 14 and 13, were arrested and the Sheriff’s Office filed for Risk Protection Orders (RPO) to ensure either youth had no legal access to firearms.

Entering the 2022-2023 school year, there is an SRO in every school, with many having two officers, Marceno said. Every deputy, detective and supervisor has a key that provides access to every school in the district so that if there is an incident reported, the sheriff’s office will not wait.

“We are going to throw every resource possible to every situation and handle it. This effort was made possible by the amazing leadership by Dr. Bernier. He understands that the safety of your children is our primary goal. Students need to go to school to learn and teachers need to be able to teach,” Marceno said.

Bernier said his team has also worked around the clock, not just to reopen schools, but to open schools while bringing the community back into the classroom in a manner that is in the safest learning environment possible.

“Our staff has worked diligently to secure perimeters, enhancing points of entry and participate in training for our emergency alert system and to make sure the safety protocols are followed each and every day,” Bernier said.

Marceno said Bernier’s actions are his words, as they are all one team at the end of the day, which is critical. He said having the relationship and partnership is why they are as successful and proactive as they are, as everyone is in sync and in communication immediately.

“I have worked with a lot of superintendents across Lee County. This is the best partnership I have ever experienced as a sheriff and I applaud him for his efforts,” Marceno said.

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