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Florida sheriff’s department trains university employees to carry firearms, confront mass shooters

‘Sentinel’ program instructs faculty and staff on gun usage; two universities signed up so far

At least two Florida universities have adopted a concealed carry policy for their campuses, allowing well-trained teachers and staff to be armed to counteract any threat from potential mass shooters.

Faculty and staff at both Webber International University and Southeastern University will be permitted to carry firearms on campus after undergoing extensive training by a local sheriff’s department.

The program began in December of 2016, when the Polk County Sheriff’s Office partnered with Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida. “The Sheriff’s Sentinel program is a unique, innovative, and first of its kind program in the nation that will provide comprehensive and professional law enforcement training to select university faculty and staff members that will enable them to carry a concealed firearm for the purpose of rapidly responding to an active assailant on campus to stop a potential deadly threat,” the sheriff’s department said at the time.

Faculty and staff who undergo the training are appointed as “Special Deputies” by the sheriff’s department “for the limited purpose of providing security on Southeastern University’s campus during an active assailant incident,” according to the department.

Training consists of 132 hours of instruction, including 1,000 rounds of live fire training and eight hours of active shooter instruction. The total hours of training participants receive is 25% more than the department’s deputies receive. As well, the department mandates an 85% pass rate for the training as compared to the 80% rate set by state standards.

Reached via phone, sheriff’s department spokesman Scott Wilder told The College Fix that the basic Sentinel program costs $2,000 per participant. “What that covers is some of the hard costs and the training and materials,” Wilder said. That $2,000 covers the cost of the pistol issued to each participant, as well.

Webber University, a private university in Babson Park, also recently applied for some of its faculty and staff to become special deputy sheriffs, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

Reached via email, Webber president H. Keith Wade said that the sheriff’s office offered an “active shooter run/hide/fight presentation” for Webber faculty and staff in 2016. The sheriff offered the Sentinel program to Webber following the presentation. “It took this long to work out the training schedule,” Wade told The Fix.

Wade stressed that the program is ultimately a function of the sheriff’s department and not the participating school. “[I]f God forbid, the unthinkable ever happens [the armed faculty and staff] will be acting, as thoroughly trained deputy sheriffs, under the command and authority of the sheriff,” he told The Fix.

Wade declined to say how many of his faculty and staff are certified to carry by the Sentinel program.

“Best I can tell you is ‘a few.’ Sorry,” he said.

According to Wilder, in addition to the two universities, ten K-12 private or charter schools in the Polk county area have or are adopting the Sentinel program as well. “We believe the program has been successful so far, and thank God we haven’t had any attacks” said Wilder.

Florida state representative Ross Spano recently put forth a proposal to take the Sentinel program statewide. That proposal would also offer “matching funds for schools to increase security measures, including cameras, bulletproof windows and doors, entry systems and fencing.”

At a press conference announcing the proposal, Southeastern University president Kent Ingle said that the school was “grateful for the Sentinel program.”

“We’re not giving guns to every member of the faculty,” he said. “We want to provide the safety and most secure learning environment. Why? Because they trust us to do that.”

MORE: A new women’s gun advocacy group highlights the popularity of campus carry

MORE: ‘I’m a College Student and I Support Campus Carry’

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