Sheriff Larry Ashley: “If we sit back and say everything is fine, and we tell our citizens we’ve got everything we need, I think we’re being dishonest."

NICEVILLE — Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley on Monday proposed a contract modification to the School Board that would permanently place six more school resource officers, or SROs, in schools for the remainder of the 2017-18 agreement term.

The modification was approved by the board and signed by Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson and School Board Chairman Lamar White. The six extra SROs have actually been in place on a temporary basis since the deadly school shooting in Parkland on Feb. 14.

“I would ask you all to consider what is it that we do, if (there is) anything that’s more important than the safety of our children,” Ashley told the board. “And I have vehemently argued throughout the state of Florida that nothing we do — traffic citations, robberies, they’re all important — but none of them are more important than the protection of our children.”

The agreement, which took effect immediately, permanently places one additional SRO in Baker School, Choctawhatchee High School, Crestview High School, Fort Walton Beach High School, Niceville High School and Northwood Elementary-Richbourg School. The School Board will foot the $197,835 cost for the officers.

Ashley said additional SROs were needed at those schools because of their physical size and number of students.

“How fast do you want your response time to be?” Ashley asked the board. “We don’t want to ever have to respond to active shooters. We want to be there already to prevent it from happening to begin with. ... So when you look at a school that has 500 students versus (a school that has) 2,000 students, and if the school is 55 or 75 acres, that’s exactly why these six additional (SROs) are being placed in larger facilities.”

The agreement comes on the heels of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 people were killed and 14 were wounded. Ashley was one of several Florida law enforcement leaders who met with Gov. Rick Scott in Tallahassee six days after the attack to discuss strategies to make schools safer.

Following that meeting, Scott announced a $500 million “major action plan” to protect students, several tenets of which Ashley outlined for the School Board on Monday.

“A few of those items that I think are certainly beneficial for us as a group are keeping guns away from dangerous folks ... and (establishing) enhanced criminal penalties through schools for school threats and social media threats,” Ashley said.

He also mentioned starting a school threat hotline, website and phone application for students, as well as establishing a “threat assessment team” and increasing mental health services for students.

Ashley also raised the issue of arming teachers, a prospect he said concerns him because “a teacher's job is to teach, and their attention is on teaching and the like.”

He also said arming teachers could be costly and time-consuming for both the School District and the Sheriff's Office.

"If we did go that route and they do legislate that, if you (trained) two (teachers) per school, that’s 80 (teachers),” Ashley said. “Just think about how many people we’ve got to get trained with 135 hours of credentials.”

 Ashley also said he would continue to push to have a half-cent local option sales tax put on the November election ballot to help bolster law enforcement efforts that he said are “sorely underfunded."

“If we sit back and say everything is fine, and we tell our citizens we’ve got everything we need, I think we’re being dishonest,” Ashley said. “We are not manned to where we need to be manned. There are a lot of issues.”