Today, on the Education Leader Podcast, we’re talking with Captain Richard Francis, who’s the Director of Safety and Security for the Seminole County School District.
At Seminole County School District, they have a unique collaborative relationship between law enforcement officers, teachers, school personnel, and parents. It’s one of the most proactive strategies in community oriented policing which we have come across in the past few months.
In our show, we will dive into this relationship as well as the other ways Captain Francis and his team are innovating on school safety and security.
- (01:36) – Captain Francis’ background before becoming Director of School Safety and Security for Seminole County.
- (01:58) – Left corporate America to follow his true passion.
- (02:41) – Built considerable experience in various fields within law enforcement.
- (04:17) – The demographic data of Seminole County’s public school system.
- Number of students and schools.
- Transportation logistics.
- Racially diverse profile.
- (05:21) – The role and responsibilities of Director of School and Safety and Security for Seminole County.
- (05:21) – The initial challenges Captain Francis faced.
- (05:31) – Recruitment in order to double the amount of safety officers in schools.
- (07:59) – Safety and security assessments on every school.
- Risk assessment.
- Physical security.
- (09:19) – What Captain Francis considers to be the top achievements in 2016.
- (09:45) – Enhance training of the School Resource Officers.
- (10:17) – Improving the handling of disciplinary issues.
- (12:09) – Why a customized approach for each school is important.
- (13:03) – Visitor management strategies.
- (14:11) – Central screening.
- (16:54) – Developing an emergency response plan.
- (17:02) – Holistic approach.
- (17:24) – Use of a Panic app.
- Geo fits and pre-programmed information on the backend.
- (23:31) – Costs of the app.
- (27:23) – Requirements.
- (13:03) – Visitor management strategies.
- (05:21) – The initial challenges Captain Francis faced.
- (29:39) – The process of doubling the amount of School Resource Officers in Seminole County.
- (31:13) – Seminole County School District’s progressive approach to safety and security.
- (31:44) – Budget issues.
- (36:57) – Captain Francis’s top priorities moving forward with safety and security.
- (37:08) – Refining and customizing the DARE curriculum for Seminole County elementary students.
- (38:59) – Developing a digital citizenship curriculum for middle schools.
- (38:59) – Fine-tuning a truancy program.
- (42:28) – What do you spend too much time doing?
- (42:40) – What do you not spend enough time doing?
- (42:46) – What do you wish more people knew about your job?
- (45:40) – What trends in safety and security are you keeping an eye on?
Where to learn more:
If you want to reach out to Captain Francis, tune into the episode where he shares his email address.
Pat: Thank you Captain Richard for this wonderful opportunity. Thank you for taking the time off today. Today I’m talking with Captain Richard Francis, who’s the Director of Safety and Security for the Seminole County School District.
At Seminole County School District, they have a unique collaborative relationship between law enforcement officers, teachers, school personnel and parents. It’s one of the most proactive strategies in community oriented policing which we have come across in the past few months.
By applying this philosophy within the school, the school resource officer is able to assist school administration in providing the most accurate and the best safety system possible. Welcome to the podcast Captain Francis, thank you so much for the time.
Captain Francis: Thank you. Thanks for having us.
Pat: How did the path to becoming the Director of School Safety and Security for Seminole County look like for you and how did you get here?
Captain Francis: 0:01:36.6 Well, a little bit about my history. I was an executive in the finance industry and I had the desire and passion to – after leaving the military, I always had that itch to be in law enforcement. I was reserve at Seminole County Sheriff Office for a long time while I was an executive with the finance company.
0:01:58.9 And I just got tired of corporate America. It was – always 0:02:05.9 [Inaudible] every month was unique in itself, but what I realized was that I wanted to further my passion and I think there was an opportunity where I was able to start looking for permanent law enforcement. Either in the Federal or local.
0:02:23.3 And after doing some research and doing some interviews with some federal agencies, I realized that my 0:02:29.3 [Inaudible] was probably here at Seminole, my home.
So, I quickly was assigned to the road and then went into investigations. We call our general assignment investigations. 0:02:41.5 Then I moved into our Major Crimes, which usually handle the homicides and the person on person crimes. Then I think I was promoted and worked as supervisor on the road at a couple of different levels.
And then, a unique situation happened just over a year ago, where the Safety and Security Manager for the school board was retiring. 0:03:03.3 And it was a civilian position, and the Superintendent Walt Griffin and our current Sheriff at the time, excuse me, our Sheriff at the time, Eslinger, 0:03:11.4 met and the Superintendent wanted a liaison at the executive level with him.
So, if an incident occurred, like in the city, where a school was, he wanted involvement in the decisions that effected the schools. So we had a couple prior incidents where city came in, law enforcement 0:03:33.5 [Inaudible – glitch] came in with the fire department and handled the situation, and the schools were kind of – the school board and the School Superintendent and executives were really not part of that equation.
0:03:45.7 So they looked for the Sheriff’s Office to help with that. So that’s – and the Sheriff Eslinger brought me in and asked for me to take on this role. I looked at it – I had pretty much a clear canvas to work from. He wanted to make it our own. If we were going to have that type of position, we wanted it – so we looked at large universities, large campuses and determined what that Director of Safety & Security was doing. 0:04:10.7 And I kind of was able to build my job looking at some best practices around the country.
Pat: 0:04:17.5 So that’s a great background. Just to put – set the table for the listeners, I just want to put some numbers out there as to how big the county is and how daunting the task was when you started.
You have a budget of about $480,000,000 with about 67,000 students. 65 schools.
You have about 450 buses transporting about 31,000 students. All the buses are GPS enabled, 352 routes every day. 7000 bus stops.
You – 98% of your teachers are designated as over-qualified, which really sets you guys apart from the rest of the districts in the State. And across the country.
The profile is pretty diverse. You have 52% White, 25% Hispanic, 15% Black, 5% Asian. So it’s a pretty nice mix.
And to top it all, Seminole County is number one in the State today.
So that’s a lot of achievements, huge district, decent budget. A lot of constraints and a lot of challenges right there.
0:05:21.3 So if you could talk to us about what were your initial challenges coming on. What did you address as your top priorities?
Captain Francis: 0:05:31.2 Well, obviously one of the earliest points that we wanted to do is put a single officer deputy in every single school. So, in essence we doubled our resources for the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office. A typical School Resource Deputy at the elementary level would have two schools. So they would spend one day at one school, or a half day, and then bounce to the other school.
0:06:01.0 So we thought in our best interests if everybody, in order to keep a – protecting – my mission is to protect the most vulnerable in Seminole County. Our kids. So obviously, by putting a single dedicated officer or deputy in every single school was one of our top priorities.
0:06:16.0 So, for myself, I almost had to double my staff. So, my first responsibility was recruiting. And part of those conversations I had Q&A sessions with the obviously deputies with the Sheriff’s Office and I painted my vision, my mission. We’re – even the SRDs, when I say SRD I mean School Resource Deputy, or deputies. 0:06:45.8 Even my current ones, I let them know what my expectations were, and some of my tenets. And I made it clear that we were moving in a different direction and really, the job they had the year prior was not going to be the same job.
And we’ve really shifted from teaching, like for example at the elementary level, the focus on safety to we needed to ensure that safety of our kids, our staff and our properties, school properties was our first priority. And then teaching and mentoring followed them out.
0:07:21.0 So my biggest first initial hurdle was recruiting. And recruiting the right people. It’s not just filling a job, it’s very unique working in our schools. There’s a lot of mentorship. There’s a lot – I use this analogy, if you’re opposed to getting down to one of the small little tables and colouring with elementary kids or helping direct traffic or serving chow at the mess hall, that is the type of people we want in our schools. 0:07:51.6 To be embedded themselves in the school and be a part of the schools.
Captain Francis: So obviously recruiting was number one. 0:07:59.8 The second thing for our safety and security was school assessments. We really wanted to do a deep dive into where our schools stand as far as the safety and security standpoint regarding risk mitigation.
0:08:11.2 We had two different assessment mechanisms that we used to go into the school. It really – from alarms, cameras, fencing to other risk mitigation issues. You know, 0:08:23.1 [Inaudible – Recording glitch] shrubs, you name it, we went to the properties at night to make sure the lighting was appropriate. From A to Z. 0:08:32.8 That was one of our biggest hurdles the first semester.
Pat: 0:08:35.5 Absolutely. So that – I hear recruiting was your top priority and then risk assessment and then follow up with physical security as a follow up measure. So you’ve been there three years now right?
Captain Francis: 0:08:54.7 The school, this School Safety Division has been inception for just over a year. I have had schools for three years, but it was a different model. I shared it with the county and actually had investigations and motors 0:09:03 [Confirm]. So it was like a three-prong approach. So this is now – we created a single division that – my division does nothing but school safety and security.
Pat: 0:09:19.0 Absolutely. Awesome. So looking back for the whole year, when you put your plan in place, what would you consider yourself – as the top achievement in the last, say, a year?
Captain Francis: 0:09:34.3 We’ve – the list is great. It’s been a long year, but we hit the ground with a very robust goals and objectives that we wanted to accomplish. Obviously, doing the 0:09:45.3 [Inaudible] and one of the – we’ve enhanced the training of the School Resource Officer Deputies. They had some minimal training, but we really increased it.
A lot has to do with some trends that we’re seeing throughout the US in the schools. 0:10:02.2 For example, I’ll use the – we’re seeing some stuff nationally, not locally, where there’s some criticism about putting officers and deputies in schools and it’s increased the arrests and stuff like that.
0:10:17.9 And also the discipline issue. And that’s one thing that we really spent a lot of time with our school resource officers and deputies training, is to – dealing with ESC kids, special needs children, understanding the uniqueness of that, and also dealing with different levels. Before my involvement, when it came 0:10:43.0 [Inaudible – Recording glitch] school district, there was a broad stroke approach.
So what was good for the high school was good for the elementary school. Obviously I disagree with that. I think you have to set up programs and security measures that’s unique to that level. I’ll give you an example. Elementary level. You can’t expect elementary kids to self-evacuate themselves from a campus.
0:11:06.3 Now high school, if its a real world incident, we’re going to spend two days reunifying high school kids. And one of the things 0:11:16.3 [Inaudible] School Safety Director was to unify our school resource officers and deputies.
So we have five different cities that participate in this program along with the Sheriff’s Office. 0:11:27.5 We ensure the contract cleaners was the same, and I had oversight in the cities and 0:11:35.7 [Inaudible ] office when it came to the school safety and security, so we had to make – what happened in school A, if a similar incident happened the next day, it was handled the same.
Pat: 0:11:45.9 Sure. What I hear pretty load and clear, is your priorities was training in a hands on custom approach for each school. Not a template which is pretty much similar across the board. So it is kind of setting yourself up for a higher challenge in the sense that the more nuanced task rather than a checklist based system.
Captain Francis: 0:12:07.0 Absolutely.
Pat: Why do you think that was so important for you?
Captain Francis: 0:12:09.9 Just being around and getting involved in the school and the culture, I just realized that every school, every school level had uniqueness. There’s certain things that obviously they can be broad stroke approach, but 0:12:27.4 [Inaudible – Recording glitch] in certain locations and how we set up our fencing around the schools. We had to be conscious of what was going on and what our target audience was.
For example, we get in our elementary schools – certain schools, you may have 30 to 60 visitors. Parents coming in either doing it as a dividends or as a volunteer, so it just creates uniqueness in every school. We can train the schools how to react in an emergency, but when you have 60 guests on campus, it creates a unique situation.
Pat: 0:13:03.2 Absolutely. And since you brought up the visitor management piece, that is a pretty big – it needs to be managed well, you know what I mean. You need to have a coherent strategy. If you could talk to us a little bit about what your visitor management strategy is, how you deal with times in which there are a lot of flux happening in schools, where the risk or threat perception really increases from a security standpoint and how you address that.
Captain Francis: 0:13:31.4 Well, good question. We started this school year, this past year, 0:13:39.0 [Inaudible – glitch] system … schools. And that was something they were looking at before my involvement and when I went to the schools they asked me to get involved to do an assessment on it.
One of our local counties was also using the system and we really wanted a modern way to screen kids. We had a large – in Seminole County we have a large volunteer group or 0:14:08.0 [Inaudible – glitch] we call them.
We also have visitors come in, and of course vendors. 0:14:11.3 And we wanted to have the ability to centrally screen them and to date, we’ve had almost ten successful hits where we’ve identified individuals that shouldn’t have been on campus.
One of the short comings of that, is it does require a little bit of extra 0:14:30.3 [Inaudible] seconds to scan [Inaudible] work around [Inaudible]. But what’s it’s taken us, we’ve realized from a principal standpoint or administrator of the schools, that if a program was supposed to start at nine, then there sending out messages, “Hey please arrive 30 minutes 0:14:52.3 [Inaudible]” …events like a football game, obviously that’s outdoors, that’s not inside a school campus. It’s handled differently.
But we’re just having to – and we’re looking now at a remote system, where if a school is having a large event, we can have a mobile 0:15:09.2 [Inaudible] so we can run two stations, two to three stations so we can help that check-in process.
And you know, obviously with any new software technology, we had to implement it, we had to make sure we did a 0:15:21.0 [Inaudible] out. And we went off and 0:15:24.7 [Inaudible] …August. The visitors … vendors, everybody will have to go through system. 0:15:33.9 Currently, dividends ((?)) was handled differently, it was on a different system. Now they’re both on the same one unit.
And the next thing is, the SRD or SRO on the campus is getting an immediate alert. It’s usually within two seconds that this individual is at the front. And sometimes, obviously there’s false positives where a like name or whatever the case may be.
But like I mentioned, just in the last school year, we had just under nine, or we had nine successful hits where we identified individuals who had been coming on campus prior to pick up kids or whatever the case may be. Eight of the nine were parents and one was a boyfriend. So, it works. And obviously, we’re going to continue to use other means to help in that process.
Pat: 0:16:23.5 Sure, awesome. There were some great takeaways there for other thought leaders to actually look and emulate the system which you’ve put so much hard work into developing. So thank you for that input.
Also, last year there were some incidents which actually prompted an overhaul of your emergency response plan. Relook and retrain your folks. If you could talk to us a little bit about the highlights of your emergency response plan.
Captain Francis: 0:16:54.9 I inherited an emergency response plan that others had worked on including members from the Sheriff’s Office. We’re seeing throughout the United States 0:17:02.8 [Inaudible] my biggest – I believe in exceptional customer service, extreme ownership and a holistic approach.
And with respect to a holistic approach, there’s things that are going on around the world that I need to be prepared for that may happen in one of our schools. 0:17:19.5 So, you know there are simple things. We’ve brought technology, for example the 0:17:24.8 soft Panic app [Confirm], and we just finalized all that, which is a soft handed button that prior to my involvement, in order for an emergency to activate in a school campus, they would –
I’ll give you an example. A janitor is out policing – picking up garbage in a high school parking lot. He sees an individual get out of a car and has a gun or what he believes to be a long rifle. Well, historically that person would call via radio to the principal or the principal’s deputy, they would massage – is it real threat or not a threat and then activate a code lockdown. I believe that anybody on campus, if they are a Seminole County Public School employee, should have the ability to initiate an emergency.
Captain Francis: 0:18:20.0 Because, obviously time is not in our favour, and we need [inaudible] we can get. So, with this Soft Panic app that we’re bringing live in August is – affords the opportunity for them to hit a simple panic button and it activates the emergency. It calls 911 immediately.
There’s a backend process where we’ve added all the executives in my office, some key people at the main building along with everybody within the footprint of that school. Every employee who’s loaded the app gets an automatic text saying active shooter, real world event, and the nice thing about this software, is that we’ve added some – it came with some false positives that we can eliminate problems. For example, one of them is being – it’s a Geo fit.
So every one of my locations, every school and main building, and some other ancillary sites, are geo fits. So, if someone pushes the button, we’ve already on the backend loaded all our information. We know that, “Hey Rick is a high school teacher at this school. His room number is 123 building 2.” So once he activates that, we have all that backend information already.
0:19:38.7 It eliminates the conversation with 911, all the questions. Because we’re providing that. We’re providing the exact location. And the way that button works – there’s multiple buttons. Of course, the first top big one is the active shooter one.
They have to hold that button down for 1.5 seconds. So, it eliminates just an accidental touch. And if that person’s out there that school footprint, it still calls 911, but it doesn’t send all the alerts away. 0:20:08.0 So it doesn’t put the school into a lockdown mode or stuff like that. So, the person has to within that bubble, and we have to have their phone as part of the program.
Technology is one of the biggest things that we’ve added to the emergency response plan. Things have changed. For example, drones. Obviously a couple of years ago drones were not an issue and we’re seeing that – not locally, but part of my job is to prepare for worst case scenario and we’re seeing drone use around schools. For good things and for bad.
So we added that to the the emergency response plan. Obviously my position – and one of the biggest changes was the – we’ve really raised the bar for that school resource officer deputy in the schools. We expect them to be the subject matter experts in their schools.
0:20:54.4 And my plan was to take a lot of that safety and security burden off the principal. We don’t exclude them. It is their school and they are the chief deputy for that school, that’s their school. And our report to that principal. But it’s more of a partnership. They have a lot of other shoulders with regards to academics and we want to take that safety and security off their shoulders. And for our guys and gals to be subject matter experts in the schools.
Pat: 0:21:23.6 That is such good takeaways right there for other schools superintendents and thought leaders listening to this. Such a close relationship between the school districts and the Sheriff’s Department can bear so much fruit. Because you look at it from a completely different perspective and you’re professionals and you have trained for these things. And to put a superintendent out there trying to figure out the safety and the nuances of the security of children may not be fair on them. So, it’s such a collaborative approach and I’m sure a lot of listeners would have a lot of questions following up on this. 0:21:59.4 But before we … I’m sorry, go ahead.
Captain Francis: 0:22:03.3 To just add a point about that collaboration. Obviously, before my involvement, he didn’t, our Superintendent Walt Griffin did not have that – with a great relationship with the Sheriff’s Office obviously, but – my office is literally 25 yards from his office. We meet almost daily.
If there’s a real world incident, I respond to the scene and ensure that not only the Sheriff’s best interests are being met, but also the superintendent’s and the school board’s. 0:22:35.0 If an incident, for example, occurs in an area where the city has responsibility to that school, I’m going in there as the School Safety Director and I have a background in unified command, incident command and for the Sheriff’s Office, I am one of two high risk incident command commanders.
So it there’s an incident, a real world incident that is significant, I can implant myself into that incident, and either help them, take control of it or whatever the case may be. But it’s important, that collaboration, because now the superintendent doesn’t have to go through a whole bunch of different mediums to get 0:23:15.3 [Inaudible].
He calls 0:23:16.4 [Inaudible] and we can talk through the situation. We’ve had some incidents, thankfully not on school, but near school campuses where we’ve – I’ve actually gone there, taken – helped ensure that everybody’s best interests – and the best interests of the students obviously.
Pat: 0:23:31.6 Sure. Awesome. So, going back a little bit to the app you just talked about. The app for school safety. The custom develop for the Seminole county. That is such a great initiative. And I’m sure most of the listeners would listen to that and go, “Huh, maybe we can – could we afford it? Could we do the same?”
So, if you can talk to us a little bit about the hard knocks of getting to where you are today. As to how you designed it? What did it cost you? What will cost for other districts? How do you maintain it? A little bit more in the specifics. Just some overview so anybody else who is listening, maybe a district with four schools. They’re like, “Hey, can we afford that? Can we do that?” So if you can talk a little bit on that, that would be really helpful for our listeners.
Captain Francis: 0:24:13.3 Sure. So obviously, when I got involved one of the things that I thought was lacking was technology in the schools as far as safety and security. So the very first mission that I had was to find a safety and security technology 0:24:33.1 [Inaudible] … and when I started looking – like I mentioned earlier, one of the things that I wanted to ensure, because we see this a lot with – on the law enforcement side with burglar alarms and business alarms, where we get all these false alarms and stuff like that.
0:24:46.0 So I wanted to have a platform that was very user friendly, that obviously worked in conjunction with law enforcement and 911. That would afford the end user the ability to activate an emergency. Historically in the United States, when it comes to school incidents, most of these incidents that have happened, are done. Resolved within 12 seconds. So I needed to give my officer deputy in the school every second to help resolve the problem.
0:25:26.1 So, when – what I found was, obviously through the school board system, this was something that we ran through the school side. Some of the safety and security enhancements we’ve brought through the Sheriff’s Office. 0:25:39.2 For example, shields. I wanted to provide our officers and deputies with shields. So that was some of the technology – some of the gear we’ve added on the Sheriff’s Office side, but this I ran through the school district.
So like any other, we had to go through competitive bargaining and obviously all that process. 0:26:00.3 My specifics were very, very clear. I wanted to have it user friendly, it had to work with Mutualink 0:26:07.4, which is something we’ve already had which works with our camera systems.
Where an incident occurs, we can immediately grab video from the school and send it to wherever we need to send it. To a hospital, to our incident command, to the Sheriff’s Office, cities, wherever. So that was one of the caveats.
But the biggest thing was the user-friendliness and the ability to eliminate the false positives. And we ended up settling on Rave 0:26:35.9 and they partnered with Mutualink. 0:26:37.5 And obviously they can Google Rave and see the product.
Because of the school district – you know, I have 65 different sites that we’re covering for this Soft Panic, and again, it’s a voluntary – we’re not forcing the employees to do it and talking to other districts that have considered software like this, we fully expect about 60-75% to jump on it initially and then after a real world event, god forbid, I’m sure we’ll be close to 100% .
27:23 And I think they have to have a smart phone. It’s the only requirement. They download it through the app store or whatever the case may be. 0:27:27.2 And the nice thing about it, is there’s nothing forensically that we’re getting from there.
So if they initiate an emergency, they can actually push the button, hold it down for the 1.5 seconds and literally walk away from the phone. It’s alive, we’re picking up everything on our end, the conversations, so if they want to be quiet in a room, for example in a lockdown situation, they can activate it, we know where they’re at, we know they’re inside the bubble, we have all the background information.
This is Rick Francis’s phone and he is a teacher here, so we’ve eliminated all that stuff that we would normally have to talk to the 911 operator to get. For Seminole county, it’s cost me about $50,000 per site. And that includes, of course, all the app, the maintenance, the dashboard to handle all of the stuff on the backend. And the price, most of the cost of price with this comes with the geo fits.
0:28:23.7 To put that bubble over the school, to eliminate – to help eliminate those false positives. So if that, god forbidding that we have a real world event and that’s activated, there’s no if ands or buts. If this is a real world event. Part of the software does have – we do fire, medical, and it goes down to just staff assist.
Let’s say a teacher’s in her classroom and she has a disruptive child. She can push that, it’s pre-set. The principal tells us who they want on it. They just want the Dean or the assistant principal to be involved or medical 0:29:00.1 [Inaudible] just to the nurse and back up or whatever. It’s very user-friendly as far as the backend, setting up what is what.
Pat: 0:29:13.8 You said 50K per site. So is that per school is considered a site or district is considered a site?
Captain Francis: 0:29:18.6 Per site.
Pat: 0:29:20.9 Per school.
Captain Francis: 0:29:20.9 Yes sir.
Pat: 0:29:23.0 Ok, awesome. So it’s a pretty big ticket item for a district-wide roll out.
Captain Francis: 0:29:29.4 Yes sir. That could be – obviously, that’s something that we negotiate for our county. A smaller district may have a different price set.
Pat: 0:29:39.5 Got it, got it, got it. I’m getting to the nuances. I want to go back to what you mentioned with regards to doubling the SRDs in high schools. That was one of your priorities. I know every school district out there listening to this and say, “Hey, I would like to double up my SRDs.”
When you said and floated this idea of actually doubling the SRDs in your high schools, just walk us through the process. Was there initial skepticism. Did you have to fight an uphill battle? Were your parents for it? Were your teachers for it? How did the budget happen?
And you know, I’m sure you would have had to climb a lot of mountains before you made that happen, so if you can walk us through that and how somebody listening out there and thinking, “Geez, I want that for my district” and how would they go about approaching that problem.
Captain Francis: 0:30:26.4 So that’s a great question. Going back a year ago, my first 0:30:34.5 [Inaudible – glitch] not to take away from anything my predecessor did, but obviously we bring a lot different resources. Not only am I a law enforcement officer, but I’m also a tactical officer on our SWAT team.
There’s a lot of things that I bring that I felt we could to the table and when you start to go around and visit. You know, I visit everyone of our schools and our high schools are averaging about 3000 students and when you’re in these schools and you’re the only law enforcement there, I realized that was a shortcoming for us.
0:31:13.0 Obviously, we have in Seminole County a very proactive school board and a very proactive superintendent and part of our meetings – I honestly articulate my goals and what I’m working on and where we’re at on certain projects. And one of those I felt that we needed to have another officer deputy in our high schools.
0:31:44.2 And obviously it’s a huge budget issue. For Seminole County alone, between the Sheriff’s Office, the cities that participate and the school district, it’s about a 5 million dollar investment to have a dedicated School Resource Officer Deputy in all our schools. 0:31:54.2 Which is a big, large financial burden. And we understand that. So obviously, before I look at anything, including that Rave button we just talked about, I have to be financially – fiscally responsible, and I understand that every penny I take away I use for safety and security is taken away from, perhaps, an academic program. 0:32:17.8 So I have to be very, very careful.
We could have the latest, greatest cameras and all that stuff. It’s great, but buying it and affording it and also sustaining it going forward is another issue. With respects to the 0:32:35.3 [Inaudible – glitch] obviously I still listen to the schools, the superintendent, the school board members and so we talked about it and we are hoping to have that implemented in August 2017 when we go back.
And I will tell you, the Sheriff’s Office, I felt so highly about it, I solicited our Sheriff and said, “Listen, I know that we’re…” and this is back in January of 2017, “…0:33:03.9 [Inaudible – glitch] school year, but I would love … because I have three high schools that are responsibilities …. deputies.” And … put a second person in there, and it gave them the argument of the safety aspect of it, but also keep in mind that I’m responsible for providing for every single school in Seminole County, so if someone is [Inaudible – glitch] school.
Preferably with the School Resource Deputy. 0:33:37.3 What I’ve done with that second person [Inaudible] injured and it’s happened to me a couple times this past year. Or a family emergency, a baby, I’ve had a kid.
Taking that second person and using them as a tool ((?)). Because they’re trained and there’s a host of training that we send them through. I get [inaudible] qualified person and put them in that vacant school for the day or for the week. 0:34:08.4 [Inaudible – glitch] from the road, a deputy, a sworn deputy to handle that second job because I’ve got another dedicated, trained School Resource Deputy in the school.
It’s been a huge success. For the principles, the admin, they are – everybody’s on board. It makes sense. In these large events, if we had a large fire or something like that, you want to have as many people who know – we can call for help on the radio, but even a best response time is going to be greater than a minute or two. In county or city. So that’s helped.
We hope in 2017, the new school year, we’ll have it fully implemented. It is a budget issue without question. 0:34:55.6 Thankfully, our superintendent and school board understand. For admin side for the schools, they’ve done – every principle is given a certain number of points and the SRD has 0:35:13.3 [Inaudible] is this number of points a security person, is this points a librarian.
So they’re given a bucket and I think the plan for the superintendent is the following year to increase that bucket a little bit to give them the ability. So if the principle wants it, they can allocate using their allowed – excuse me, their point system. So that puts it – it’s more of a collaboration. If the principle wants it. I can tell you this past school year, I met with the high school principles and asked if they were willing to give up a security guy or gal to help offset some of the costs. There’s stuff that a security guy does that my guys are not going to do. So it did not go my way on that aspect.
0:36:03.5 But obviously, some of these high schools, like I mentioned, are running about an average of 3000 and that’s a lot for one person to handle the safety and security. And to be a subject matter expert and to be everywhere.
They don’t sit at a desk or cubicle all day. We fully expect them to be out, mingle with the kids when they’re changing classes. Lunch period, when they’re getting off the bus, when they leave for the day. 0:36:34.4 [Inaudible] … beginning bell to end bell, there’s officer …. schools.
Pat: 0:36:40.1 That’s great. So many great takeaways from there. So many amazing, innovative ways in which to approach it. Thank you for sharing that. It’s amazing how much you’ve accomplished in Seminole County in the last year.
But as we all know, the work in education, especially when it comes to safety and security, is never done. 0:36:57.9 What are your top priorities going forward in the next, say, a year or two years? Short term and medium term if you can put it in a pretty succinct way.
Captain Francis: 0:37:08.6 Well, we have – it’s important – I have a host of projects that are – that we … this last year that we hope to finish within the first semester. And one thing that I’ve found, is for Seminole County, I’m sure you’re familiar with DARE.
We, a few years back [Inaudible – glitch] safety programs in Seminole County. And that is geared just for our 5th graders. So all 5th graders, and there’s an opt-out clause if they want to opt out. But 99.9% [Inaudible] and it’s a program that we run for ten weeks in all of our elementary schools. And it’s a focus on safety from drugs, gangs, but we really spent a lot of time making it our own. Tweaking it to what’s going on to our kids now.
And I use this example. We partner with the FBI, Innocent Task Force 0:38:06.6 [Inaudible] … this past year. We were out teaching digital citizenship at the high schools. They approached me, they had heard about my safe school initiatives and what I was doing, and we touched on 0:38:20.8 [Inaudible] and stuff like that. Internet safety.
38:25 But we really wanted to partner with them, because they’re obviously such experts in this. And what I realized is, we’re in the high schools talking that you and I probably – the conversations we would have in high school or college. We’re learning that we’re a little late.
So we moved that digital citizenship presentation down to the middle school level. 0:38:46.1 So we’re touching them at the 5th grade level, so one of my biggest projects, which we’re working on right now, is that gap.
0:38:59 We were working on middle school curriculum for safety and security, really geared towards that digital citizenship. We think that’s a hot topic for our kids. 0:39:04.8 What we’re also doing, and this is something that DARE really didn’t do, is I felt was real important for me to have my Focus on Safety Program validated. 0:39:16.1
So we partnered with UCF and they’re currently in the process of doing some interviews with people – for kids that have been through there, administrators have been through and even our School Resource Officers and deputies have taught it. To make sure that we’re teaching stuff at the right time to the right people and the right message.
0:39:33.3 So the lessons learned from the digital citizenship at the high school level, I’m in the audience, I did the introductions and did my little speech and turned it over to the FBI, but as I’m looking at these individuals I realize that we’re late. We’re too late on this. They’re – so we brought it down to the middle school level, which is perfect.
So, we have the 5th grade safety program. I’m working on a middle school curriculum for safety and security and I’m also working on a 3rd grade curriculum called, Child Lures 0:40:03.1. It’s a national recognized program. We are vetting that through the process of Seminole County public district to see if we can bring that.
0:40:11.6 So, my goal is to have a 3rd grade program, and you know, research has shown that that’s where kids start – they’re able to retain, they understand things a little bit better. So we want to touch them at the 3rd grade level, again at the 5th grade level and get them again at middle school level.
0:40:28.0 And a lot of my programs, like truancy for example, we’re really – it’s another program we’re working on heavily that we want to finish. We’ve partnered with 13 elementary schools. We’re not going to forget about middle and high school truancy issues, but we really want to spend – my people are tasked with – 80% of our focus is going to be truancy at the elementary level. And we’re going to work to get to the root of the problem.
0:40:45.0 Truancy, for example, for a 1st grader, is not the kid’s problem. It’s the parent, or something’s going on in the family. And so we have what we call wrap around services. We’re identifying thirteen schools that have higher numbers of truancy at the elementary level. We’re working with the school district, the school administration and our social workers, our Sheriff’s Office, along with the SRD or SRO to identify them and work to resolve them. Because – and we’re hoping to stop that cycle.
Pat: 0:41:20.7 Sure. Yeah, that’s so great. I mean, it’s such a pleasure seeing with your background in safety and security and also your background in being an adjunct professor in the Seminole State College and also previously at the New 0:41:33.3 [Inaudible] City.
The, kind of, clearly shows in the way you’re transitioning or you’re kind of bridging the gap between policing and actually academia. And you’re kind of trying to push that down — the safety and security awareness down to a 5th grader level. And it’s so nice to see that. I’m sure a lot of listeners out there will appreciate that nuance.
You know, your job does not end where you job definition says it does. But you’re kind of pushing the boundaries, pushing it down, taking interest. And how you educate 5th graders, what the curriculum should look like, how they should be security aware. And that is such awesome to hear. Thank you so much for sharing that.
0:42:14.5 So, before we wrap up, I like to ask all our guests a few rapid-fire questions, if you will. The questions will be quick, but your answer does not have to be. So, with that – sounds like a plan?
So with that, 0:42:28.3 First question, what do you currently spend too much doing?
Captain Francis: 0:42:33.5 Dealing with unfounded social media threats in our schools.
Pat: 0:42:40.7 What do you not spend enough time doing?
Captain Francis: 0:42:43.7 Out in the schools, seeing 0:42:45.0 [Inaudible]
Pat: 0:42:46.1 What do you wish more people knew about your job today?
Captain Francis: 0:42:51.7 The biggest thing is that when law enforcement – I’ll speak just for Seminole County. It piggy backs to the earlier comment about the threats. You know, we’ve had some incidents where somebody sees something – we encourage people if they see something, say something.
So, when we see our threat – we’re getting threats, that’s a good thing, because we want to hear from kids. “Hey we saw something written on a wall, or this person’s talking about a gun.” We encourage that. We want that information. We have a speak out through crime 0:43:25.5 [Inaudible] – there’s an app they use, they can send in – obviously they can call the direct line.
And we spend – obviously it doesn’t matter what the threat [Inaudible – glitch] … it’s over. But one of the biggest things that, you know – if we tell parents, for example – I’ll give you an example. In one of our high schools, we had an incident where someone posted a threat.
And it grabbed hold in social media, the news, and we quickly identified the person, we validated the threat was unfounded, there was no means, there was no intent and we articulated this through, you know, instant messages at the school level, letters, through social media, through our PIO.
But at the end of the day, at 3000 kids, we’re on campus that next morning when the threat was supposed to happen. And there was 288 kids out of 3000. 0:44:29.3 And that prompted me to have the town hall meeting, and one of the biggest messages I want to articulate, if law enforcement that’s involved in Seminole County, working in collaboration with the school district says that the threat is not real, go to school, I would love for parents to go to school.
Trust me, I can assure you, there’s stuff going on behind the scenes. It’s the safest place in Seminole County. 0:44:52.5 And we will be transparent. If there is a problem, we won’t tell you there isn’t a problem.
Of all the threats we took, we had just a handful that we actually had to take extra steps on. None of them had any merit, but we had to get other investigators involved through our domestic security division and actually work them out a little bit more than just an initial response from the deputy on scene at the school.
But at the end of the day, of every one that we received the last school year, none, none had any merit. Or were closed and unfounded. 0:45:27.4 So, that’s the message I wish parents understood. All the stuff that goes on in the backdrop that – some stuff we can talk about, some stuff we can’t. There’s safety and security measures that are in place that we just cannot discuss on an open forum.
Pat: 0:45:40.0 Yep. Trust the police. So, last question. What emerging trends in the school safety are you keeping an eye out for? What are you watching hawkishly through these days for in the future?
Captain Francis: 0:45:52.9 You know, I mentioned earlier about threats. You know, unfortunately there’s things going on around the world. My job is to make sure we’re not the lowest hanging fruit. I’m currently – we’re responsible for public schools, but I have private and chartered schools throughout the county and we’re spending some time with them trying to get them on the same page as far as safety and security.
0:46:15.7 You see an incident happen a few months ago in California where a boyfriend or husband coming into a school and unfortunately two youth were injured and killed in that incident. 0:46:28.1 So we have domestic incidents regarding relationships, so you have – we have – I’m concerned about, you know, obviously I have to keep in mind – you know, it’s important to understand that I have to plan for the worst case scenario. And pray for the best.
And knock on wood, we had a great year last year and we’ve really raised the bar. It’s amazing – unfortunately like Pulse, that happen in our own backyard, it takes sometimes tragic events for certain hardcore people to get on board. 0:47:05.6 It’s amazing how many phone calls I received. Thankfully – I don’t have a crystal ball, but a lot of this stuff that has happened, we try to stay ahead of.
Like I mentioned, the threats. From extreme groups locally to a broad – also one of the things that we’ve tried to stay ahead of is the pipeline to the jails issue where it’s happened nationally. Thankfully we’ve stayed ahead of it here, where, you know, the theory that if you put an officer and a deputy in every school, then you’re – all these arrests we were there. And I’ve made it crystal clear, for example, drugs.
We have – we’ve done K-9 sweeps and stuff like that, being proactive in the schools. And honestly, I don’t care if we make a single arrest in those. 0:47:50.9 If we all we do is keep the drugs out of the schools. And one of the things that I see that – the issue with social media, threats, and also when it comes to – we have seen nationally where – incidents where stuff that should have been handled – a school discipline issue – the school officer or deputy is involved – we’ve spent a lot of time, myself, meeting with all of our staff, our principals and along with our officers and deputies to – for them to understand that that is a line that we are not going to cross.
0:48:32.1 If it is a school discipline issue, we’re not involved, end of story. Not that we’re – if it escalates, obviously we’ll get involved, but that’s something that I think that it’s important for administrators around the US to understand they need to stay ahead of that.
Pat: 0:48:50.2 That requires thought leadership to actually make the find distinction between what is a school discipline issue and what is a law enforcement issue. And thanks for sharing that. What I hear loud and clear is in today’s day and age that threat perception is changing. The way people behave, the communal situation is changing, so we’ve got to stay current and change our tools accordingly to actually stay on top of it and actually make sure our kids are safer in schools today.
Captain Francis: 0:49:19.0 Absolutely.
Pat: 0:49:21.0 Absolutely. That’s great. So what, if any of our listeners – I’m sure there will be a lot of questions. If they want to reach out to you, what would be the best way for any of the listeners to reach out to you and ask for the questions.
Captain Francis: 0:49:32.2 I’ll provide my email address. That’s probably the best way to reach me, and that’s RFrancis@SeminoleSheriff.org.
Pat: 0:49:46.7 Thanks for sharing that, that should be pretty helpful for quite a few listeners out there. Again, Captain Francis, I know we could have gone off in so many tangents, which we talked about. I was really holding myself back to stay to the timelines and stick to that.
You shared so many valuable information which I’m sure administrators out there today listening to this podcast can go back to their school and say, “Hey I can use that tomorrow, I can put that in place so that my kids are safer tomorrow.”
Even if they don’t spend an additional dollar, there’s so many things which you said today which can be put in effect tomorrow in schools across the country to make our children safer. I just want to say thanks so much.
Captain Francis: 0:50:28.1 There’s no doubt. There’s a lot of local, no cost initiatives out there. Safety and security [Inaudible – glitch] … there campus. And most of our, probably 80-90% of our stuff has been that low cost or no cost initiative. It’s just important. We all understand all the financial environment we’re in.
Pat: 0:50:50.3 Absolutely. And the first step towards it is acknowledging that we need to change with the times. And that was so loud and clear in your message. We need to stay current, we need to stay receptive to the changes happening and devise tools and methods to address those changes and threat perceptions.
So I just want to say thanks so much for your time today, I know you have a busy schedule. It was great being able to pick your brain, and I’m sure listeners will be able to get a lot out of it.
Captain Francis: It was a pleasure, thank you for inviting me.