WINTER HAVEN FL July 4 2017 – It’s official - there now are nine deputized sentinels ready to stand guard on the campus of Lakeland’s Southeastern University.
In what officials said is the first program of its type in Florida, SEU “sentinels” are volunteer “special deputies” of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, licensed to carry concealed firearms to counter any threat from an active assailant.
“The only time you’ll see these firearms is in the event of an active shooter,” Polk Sheriff Grady Judd said during Monday’s brief news conference at his Winter Haven headquarters. “There’s no doubt in my mind these special deputies will run into danger in order to protect students and staff. I’m excited about this. I can’t think of a better way to start the July 4 holiday.”
In response to a spate of high-profile campus shootings in recent years, Judd last year reached out to SEU in hopes of forming a quick-response team of specially trained employees. The idea is to thwart an attack through the element of surprise, Judd said.
Judd backed his proposal with federal statistics showing that 107 of the nation’s 160 active-shooter incidents between 2000 and 2013 ended before police arrived. Thirty-nine of those incidents took place in an educational setting.
During Monday afternoon’s news conference, Judd administered an oath to Chris Owen, Southeastern’s vice president for student development and the only public face of the college’s new sentinel program. The remaining employees were sworn in during an earlier ceremony that was closed to the public to protect their anonymity, which Judd said is key to the program’s success.
“We’re over being sitting ducks in this county,” he said.
According to sheriff’s officials, the volunteer sentinels received 132 hours of training and underwent a battery of screenings by Judd’s staff, including criminal-background checks, drug testing and psychological evaluations.
Volunteers received 80 hours of firearms instruction as part of their training, including eight hours of instruction simulating an active-shooter situation.
Special deputies have no authority in a law-enforcement capacity, on campus or off, other than to respond to a deadly threat.
Southeastern President Kent Ingle, on hand for Monday’s ceremonies, said the sentinel program should allay concerns parents have about their children’s safety.
He called Judd “the greatest sheriff in the nation,” and praised the sentinel program as a national model.
Southeastern has since 2014 contracted with the Polk Sheriff’s Office for campus security, a contract that will remain in force, Ingle said. But with escalating campus shootings across America, “We felt we needed to go to another level.”
Owen, who has two children attending SEU, said he’s not new to gun ownership. But having trained under the wings of experts, he has a new appreciation for the craft.
“They did a wonderful job of training us,” he said. “Everything we went through made us better shooters, more aware.”