Pembroke Pines police officer Dara Vanantwerp is on the beat, making sure Panther Rrun Elementary School is secure.
Ever since the Broward School District found money to help pay for 12 more school resource officers, Panther Run has her all to itself, instead of sharing her with two other schools. It’s peace of mind in the post-Sandy Hook era.
“I’d always thought about the what-if’s, but I think the reality of sandy hook was, it wasn’t just middle or high school, it could happen at any school including an elementary, your worst nightmare,” said Principal Elaine Saef. “If something comes up, she’s on campus right away now.”
Vanantwerp, who came out of retirement to patrol the school, says keeping the kids safe is her top priority.
“Since Sandy Hook, it’s been kind of a hard process to swallow that something like that could happen and to realize that kind of thing could visit any elementary school in the country,” she said.
The Broward Schools Police Chief says all middle and high schools in the county already have school resource officers, and ideally, all elementary schools, will, too. The district spent $550,000 to pay half the cost for more of them in Hollywood, Coconut Creek, Davie, Wilton Manors, Lauderhill, and Pembroke Pines. Some of those cities haven’t yet taken advantage of the money. Pembroke Pines has, already deploying five cops to patrol its elementary schools. Just having officer Vanantwerp’s police car parked out front sends a message.
“We can never measure prevention, so we don’t know what’s being prevented, but I think it’s a good first line of defense,” said David Golt, chief of the Broward District School Police.
Another form of crime and delinquency prevention is reaching children at an impressionable age, teaching them to respect and admire police officers. Vanantwerp does that every day.
“Absolutely, I think it’s huge for how they feel about police officers and knowing that police officers are their friends and are there if they need someone to talk to,” said Saef.
Vanantwerp says the kids treat her like a rock star, whether she’s teaching “stranger danger” lessons or just patrolling the hallways. In all her years of law enforcement, from road patrol to investigating homicides, she says this assignment is her most rewarding.
“I' m here every day, sick, no matter what, I’m here because i want to protect all of my kids, all 500-plus,” she said.