homepage logo

SRO training prioritized in Cape Coral

By Staff | Dec 26, 2019

Police officers in schools have become necessary to protect students from potential dangers and scenarios that have become a parent’s worst nightmare.

Legislation by Gov. Ron DeSantis — the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act — passed in late 2018, required a school resource officer, or, SRO, in every school across the state.

With some school-based officers scattered across the country coming under criticism for “unnecessary” action taken towards students, Cape Coral Police Department officials are concentrating on selection and training as its program moves to mid-year.

In Cape Coral, SROs are trained to work with schools and students to provide a safe atmosphere. CCPD selects officers who it feels would be good fit in academic settings.

“The Cape Coral Police Department believes that all students should be able to attend school, learn, grow and mature in a safe environment,” said CCPD Captain Michael Catania, who oversees the SRO program. “Based on what has transpired over the past few years regarding mass shootings and student safety — as well as the governor mandating officers in the schools through new state legislation, we will do everything in possible to keep our children safe at school.”

In Cape schools, SROs are chosen via a selection process conducted by the Bureau Commander and SRO supervisory staff.

“When we chose an officer who will represent the Cape Coral Police Department, we look at the officer’s training, experience and communicating skills,” Catania said.

Officers, if interested, can apply for an opening at a school listing their qualifications, followed by the selection process.

As for training, the Cape Coral Police Department has an edge over the rest when it comes to their resources. CCPD was awarded the Department of Justice’s Student, Teachers, and Officers Preventing School Violence (STOP) grant in October — one of only three law enforcement agencies, in their category (a medium-sized county with a population between 100,000-500,000), nationwide (the only in Florida) to have been awarded this grant.

“This grant will allow our School Resource Officers to be trained and certified as Threat Assessment Managers, which is crucial in identifying school threats before they are acted upon,” Catania said. “Secondly, every School Resource Officer in Cape Coral and a faculty member from every school in Lee County will get ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) instructor certified training and will provide ALICE training to all school personnel and students in Lee County.”

CCPD, along with The School District of Lee County, wanted to create a model SRO program for departments and offices to emulate across the nation.

When the legislation from DeSantis passed, CCPD and the school district created a 25-person SRO Unit from essentially scratch in approximately 60 days.

In wanting to create a first-class SRO Unit, the department applied guidelines and policies to ensure success.

“The Cape Coral Police Department created a new, modern policy governing the unit,” a CCPD release on SROs in October states. “This policy incorporates best-practices from agencies across the country and nationally recognized professional organizations like the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO). We then hand-picked officers from our ranks — volunteers with SWAT experience, US Military combat veterans, major-crimes investigations experience, even a former investigator with DCF. The qualifications standards for our SRO Unit is that of our SWAT team.”

The release continued, “With the funding provided from this federal grant, our SROs will all become ALICE instructors and can instruct this nationally recognized active shooter/active threat curriculum in our schools. Our SROs will also receive advanced training from the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals (ATAP) and pursue the rigorous and prestigious designation of Certified Threat Manager (CTM). The goal is to become one of, if not the only, SRO units in the country in which all of their members are certified CTMs.”

Catania said there are three major components of an SROs job: “that of law enforcement, education and counseling — which is a pro-active approach to law enforcement through positive role modeling.”

“These three components allow the SRO to promote positive relations between youth and law enforcement, which encourages school safety and deters juvenile delinquency,” Catania said.

Officers undergo what’s called “cultural diversity training.”

“All of our officers receive cultural diversity training,” Catania said. “We choose officers who have excellent communication skills. All of our SROs have attended Crisis Intervention training as well.”

SROs participate in 40-hour training blocks that includes Active Shooter training and other aforementioned training classes.

CCPD and SROs also work to build a relationship with whichever campus they are called on to protect.

“There is a tremendous rapport between the Cape Coral SROs and Cape Coral school administrations/staff,” Catania said. “Officers also help teach safety and law enforcement tactics. This helps develop a relationship with students and staff members.”

In Cape Coral, SROs have become an extension of a school’s “family,” with pictures of officers helping students, faculty and administration are posted on social media with captions of good deeds SROs have done for schools, going above and beyond their call of duty.

On CCPD’s website, you can find each school’s SRO officer, along with a picture of him/her at each school and their contact information.

In June, CCPD SROs along with the Police Athletic League, Ida Baker High School and help from a local Walmart, were able to host a youth football camp at the high school.

The Law and Order Ball, an annual event honoring all branches of law enforcement in the county, raised money to supply SROs with trauma kits — “a valuable asset in the event they are needed to help an injured student, faculty member or an officer.”

There have been no major events in Cape Coral or Lee County that have warranted an SRO to take measures in a life-or-death situation.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj