There will be a new face at Groveland Elementary School this year, and his name is Officer Jimmy Festa. He’s part of a new legislative mandate putting school resource officers in elementary schools throughout the state in the wake of the Stoneman Douglas High School shootings in Parkland, Fla. on Valentine’s Day.
Festa applied for the position for one reason: “I dig kids,” said the father of six, who already serves as an advisor with the Groveland Police Explorers.
While the reason behind putting resource officers in elementary schools is serious, Festa looks forward to serving beyond protecting students from a dangerous intruder. He wants to be a role model and mentor — a familiar face in the classrooms and hallways, encouraging the children that attend the school.
During the summer, he and other school resource officers attended special training preparing for the active-shooter scenario all hope will never become a reality. He also received crisis-intervention training that teaches law-enforcement officers how to deal with people who have mental-health disorders.
Festa is no stranger to Groveland Elementary. As a patrol officer, he routinely stopped by the school.
“This is the best age of kids,” Festa said. “They love everybody. They still fist bump or high-five me.”
In fact, the police department’s policy about school-resource officers includes a focus on crime prevention through education and early intervention.
The City of Groveland was one of the first schools in the 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. City Manager Mike Hein recommended approval of funding the new position, and the council members voted unanimously to support it. Lake middle and high schools already have school resource officers.
“The children are our future,” said Groveland Mayor Dina Sweatt. “We have to protect them.”