Groveland police Officer Jimmy Festa had one simple reason to apply for the new position of school resource officer at Groveland Elementary School: “I dig kids,” he says.
The father of six serves as an advisor with the Groveland Police Explorers and he’s no stranger to the elementary school. As a patrol officer, he routinely stopped by the school. “This is the best age of kids,” he says. “They love everybody. They still fist-bump or high-five me.”
Officer Festa is part of a new legislative mandate placing resource officers in elementary schools throughout the state in the wake of the Valentine’s Day shootings at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, a news release states.
During the summer, he and other school resource officers attended special training preparing for active-shooter scenarios. He also received crisis-intervention training that teaches law enforcement officers how to deal with people who have mental health disorders.
But Officer Festa looks forward to serving students beyond protecting them from the potential threat of a dangerous intruder. He wants to be a role model and a mentor—a familiar face in the classrooms and hallways who encourages the children. In fact, the Groveland Police Department’s policy about school resource officers includes a focus on crime prevention through education and early intervention.
Groveland was one of the first cities in Lake County to step up to pay for the unfunded mandate. The cost to the city will be $38,000, with Lake County Schools funding the remaining $40,000, according to the release. City Manager Mike Hein recommended approval of funding the new position, and the City Council voted unanimously to support it. Lake County middle and high schools already have school resource officers.
“The children are our future,” Groveland Mayor Dina Sweatt says in the release. “We have to protect them.”