Professors could be packing pistols on Polk campus

A new partnership aims to speed up response in case a deadly threat occurs on a university campus in Lakeland.

The Polk County Sheriff's Office's "Sentinel program" is the latest addition to Southeastern University's safety and security operations.  The program, described as one-of-a-kind, equips select faculty and staff with training and tools to assist in active shooting situations.

"In addition to all the training, threat assessments , individual intervention, and technology we have invested into our security programs, we know one more critical thing we can do to reduce the number of lives impacted in an active assailant incident is a shorter response time for the good guys -- interrupt and stop the bad guy," Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said.

According to the sheriff's office, the university selects faculty and staff members for participation in the program. Those selected must undergo background checks, drug testing, and a psychological evaluation.

Participants are required to complete 132 hours of training, including active shooter and defense tactics.  Other areas of instruction include firearm safety, legal liabilities, and discretionary shooting.

Participants must complete 100 hours of firearms training, compared to 80 hours received by sheriff's office deputies, and they must pass at an 85-percent rate compared to the standard 80-percent.

Those who complete the requirements qualify for appointment as a volunteer "special deputy" by Sheriff Judd and are authorized to carry concealed, approved firearms on campus -- but their law enforcement authority is limited.

According to the department, special deputies "shall have no authority in a law enforcement capacity outside of a deadly threat active assailant incident on campus and shall have no authority in a law enforcement capacity off campus in any way."

The sheriff's office can deny or end a participant's involvement for violations.

"The safety of our students, faculty and staff is a paramount concern for us at Southeastern University," said university president Dr. Kent Ingle. "We are excited about this new program that will result in well trained staff being available on campus to rapidly respond to any active assailant threat."