They wear bright yellow shirts that have "Safe School Officer" emblazoned in big letters on the back. They carry a semi-automatic handgun in a holster. They patrol schools, inside and out. Sounds like they're school resource officers, but we're describing Broward County Schools' new armed guardians. They have one job.
"I am here to prevent any harm from happening to students, faculty, visitors," said Daniel Coley, an armed guardian at an elementary school which we are not naming by request of the school district.
Broward Schools is hiring former law enforcement or ex-military personnel to patrol schools that don't have an SRO to comply with a new state law. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Safety Act mandates every school have either an SRO or an armed guardian on campus. Middle and high schools already had SRO's, but 55 elementary schools had only unarmed campus security monitors when the last school year ended.
"I think a lot of people would shy away from this challenge," Coley said.
Coley was inspired by the tragedy at Stoneman Douglas High School, and with his Coast Guard background, this job is a bridge to a law enforcement career.
"It's a great stepping stone, especially getting the training BSO provides, the very thorough training they provide," said Coley.
The Broward Sheriff's Office is training the armed guardian applicants in firearms use, tactics, and other basic subject areas. So far, a dozen guardians are on the job, with more on the way. Police officers from various agencies are patrolling schools, being paid overtime, until enough guardians can take their places.
"From day one, Mr. Coley has displayed the highest level of professionalism," said principal Rhonda Parris. "He has been instrumental in securing our campus and also in helping us identify maybe some soft spots."
"A lot of times I'll be out here, mainly when first graders finish with lunch because they'll walk this way and you'll see some adults or high schoolers that'll hop the fence over there and try to walk across so I try to stop them before I see it," Coley explained, as he walked along the back fence of the school, showing one of the vulnerabilities he's discovered.
So what's the attraction of the job? Definitely not the pay, the guardians are only making about $30,000 in salary, so there has to be another reason to want to patrol a school to protect students and teachers.
"It was something that I was more than willing to do in light of what happened, I mean children should never have to worry about going to school and whether they're gonna go home that night or not," Coley said.
Coley says the kids, parents, and teachers have been extremely supportive of his presence. He's a deterrent, the first line of defense, and says he's learning something every day at school.
"It's always something new with these kids, it's great, I really love it," Coley said.