Says Florida has "roughly 1,500 resource officers dealing with about 3,800 schools."

Bill Galvano on Monday, February 26th, 2018 in a committee meeting

Taking a closer look at Florida's school resource officer count

A sign of support is held up at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)

State Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, wants additional school resource officers to be part of any school safety package from the Legislature after the Parkland, Fla., shooting.

"We have gaps in our school resource officers. We need more school resource officers," Galvano said during a Senate Rules Committee meeting Feb. 26. "Right now, we have roughly 1,500 resource officers dealing with about 3,800 schools."

The committee approved SB 7026, which would increase the number of officers, raise the age to purchase any firearm to 21, and establish a three-day waiting period for gun purchases. 

School resource officers have been a major topic of discussion since the shooting, despite the fact that there was an officer on campus when the attack happened. Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel suspended the only armed school resource officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Scot R. Peterson, after Israel said he took cover outside of the building instead of confronting the gunman. Peterson resigned.

Still, Galvano and others want more officers in schools. And Gov. Rick Scott has proposed a separate $450 million plan that would in part go toward the goal of having a resource officer in every school.

Is the officer-to-school ratio as imbalanced as Galvano said? 

We found it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact number of schools served by resource officers, in part because multiple schools can share an officer, and officers are funded through various pots of money. 

But Galvano's overall point that not every school has a school resource officer is accurate.

Counting officers 

Galvano’s information traces back to the Safe Schools Appropriation Expenditures Report from the state Department of Education.

According to the document, there were 1,517 resource and law enforcement officers who served a total of 2,432 schools in the 2015-16 school year (the most recent year provided).

The department's report counted the number of school resource officers and law enforcement officers at elementary, middle, high, alternative and "combination" schools.

In Broward County, home of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, there were 160 school resource officers in Broward County that served 187 schools.

That said, Department of Education spokeswoman Audrey Walden said the report does not necessarily capture every single school resource officer in the district. Many districts have agreements with local law enforcement agencies that allow them to have additional school resource officers funded through other sources not captured by the report. (Each school district receives a minimum of $62,660 through the safe schools appropriation.)

In other words, there might be more than 1,500 school resource officers in the state. 

"This report might not capture the officers funded through other sources, so we do not have an official statewide total," she said.

We checked other sources for a more comprehensive total of school resource officers and came up empty-handed. So while the 1,500-figure might not be reflective of every single resource officer in the state, it's the only data we could find.

Counting schoools

We asked Galvano’s office about the discrepancy in the report’s count of Florida schools (2,432) versus Galvano’s (3,800).

Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta said that to arrive at the 3,800 number for schools, legislative staff counted up state data for elementary, middle and high schools, alternative schools, Exceptional Student Education centers and charter schools.

More than 4,000 schools fall under that count, so the staff excluded adult high schools, hospital homebound students, virtual school students, and Florida Department of Juvenile Justice facilities, to get to 3,800. But the state report found about 1,500 officers serving 2,400 elementary, middle, high, alternative and "combination" schools.

Galvano took a specific count for 1,500 school resource officers and applied it to a larger number of schools than what the report actually reflects.

The shortage in school resource officers reflects a broader shortage of law enforcement officers in the state, said Commander Dale Tharp of the Escambia County Sheriff's Office, who is also the spokesman for the Florida Association of School Resource Officers. He said most large law enforcement agencies are short 40 to 50 officers.

Other counties have already started the process of getting more resource officers into schools without waiting for the state. Both Manatee and Hernando counties added resource officers to their schools in the weeks following the shooting.

Our ruling

Galvano said Florida has "roughly 1,500 resource officers dealing with about 3,800 schools."

A Florida Department of Education report found that there were 1,517 resource and law enforcement officers that served a total of 2,432 schools in the 2015-16 school year. However, that report does not include every school resource officer in the state. Galvano arrived at his 3,800 figure by taking the overall number of schools and excluding a handful of non-traditional schools. But as the report states, those 1,500 officers served 2,400 schools. 

Galvano’s larger point  — that many schools lack school resource officers — appears to be on point. But his numbers are off, so we rate this claim Half True.

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Half True
Says Florida has "roughly 1,500 resource officers dealing with about 3,800 schools."
in a committee meeting
Monday, February 26, 2018