(TNS) - The Sarasota, Fla., County School District has a police chief for its new internal force: former college security head Paul Grohowski.
The hiring decision marks the district's biggest step yet toward the creation of the internal police department following the board decision in April to have its own force rather than use resource officers from local law enforcement agencies. It came the day after a meeting of local law enforcement leaders, district administrators and School Board Chairwoman Bridget Ziegler in which the district pivoted to a later start for many of its internal police officers in elementary schools.
Grohowski most recently worked as the director of public safety and chief of police for the Allan Hancock Joint Community College Police Department in Santa Maria, Calif. He was also a finalist for the North Port Police Department's top position.
The Florida resident was chosen from a pool of more than 20 applicants and three finalists with various law enforcement backgrounds. All three had more than double the 10 years' minimum of experience required in the job description.
Superintendent Todd Bowden praised Grohowski for his nuanced understanding of policing as a former college police chief and former police department sergeant, lieutenant and commander.
"To have an applicant like Mr. Grohowski who has worked in and thrived in both of those environments had great value," Bowden said. "It talks about his leadership but also his flexibility, his adaptability, that he has been very successful in multiple environments and that he will be a valuable bridge between our school district and the law enforcement community."
In previous interviews, the district's head of safety and security, Michael Andreas, had indicated that an ability to work well with students and the community was one of the most important skills in a prospective police chief. Bowden said Grohowski exemplifies that.
"Mr. Grohowski carries himself like a law enforcement officer and he certainly has that kind of stature, but then as you engage him in conversation, you know that his heart is there with the kids," Bowden said. "He talks about his children, he talks about his unique mission of providing protection to our schools. He has a big heart but he is a law enforcement officer through and through."
Grohowski began his career in 1996 at the Danbury Police Department in Connecticut. He then moved to Florida and worked for the Port St. Lucie Police Department from 2002 to 2015. He has maintained his certification with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Bowden said.
He received his bachelor's in professional administration and master's in public administration from Barry University in Miami.
Grohowski could not immediately be reached for comment.
Although his most recent job was in California, Bowden said Grohowski would be moving from Orlando to Sarasota. He has four children, two of whom are rising high school seniors. After they graduate next year, his family will join him in Sarasota, Bowden said.
Grohowski's hiring is contingent upon passing background checks and School Board approval. Although he has already passed a district background check, Grohowski must also pass an FDLE background screening. Should that happen before the School Board's June 19 meeting, Grohowski's position will be on that agenda, Bowden said.
The district will now turn to hiring three police sergeants and 24 officers for its new force. It had received more than 40 applicants for those jobs as of late May.
Bowden said Grohowski will be a part of those decisions. Following his job offer, Grohowski and Andreas were already discussing candidates for the sergeant positions.
"Our hire as chief of police will really set the tone for the department and I can tell you that there's a great deal of excitement," Bowden said. "If that department is created in the image of Paul Grohowski, with a great level of professionalism, I expect his standard will be looking for men and women who carry themselves and have the heart he possesses."
On Wednesday, Bowden was audibly enthusiastic about the new hire.
"This is our first tangible public action," he said. "There is a level of excitement around that."
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