The Olentangy Local School District's director of safety, security and preparedness, who took his post last month, says he's working toward providing "a secure safety presence" in district buildings.
Joe Suozzi was named to the newly created position in September and started in the role in early October.
A resident of the school district, Suozzi is a former special agent, supervisory special agent and unit chief with the FBI and worked in a variety of fields for the bureau.
When Suozzi was hired, Superintendent Mark Raiff pointed to that experience as the determining factor in hiring him.
"While I'm confident in our current safety protocols and staff training, Mr. Suozzi's expertise will help us identify ways we can create an even more secure environment, streamline response tactics and keep Olentangy families and the community informed," Raiff said. "We are fortunate to have someone with his background and expertise working for our district."
After his first few weeks on the job, Suozzi said he's been touring schools and meeting district leaders while working out what exactly his role entails.
He said it took him weeks to visit each of the district's buildings, but he's happy to be gaining familiarity with Olentangy's schools.
"Being that it's such a large district, both geographically and population-wise for students and staff, I have a lot of territory to cover," Suozzi said. "So now that I've been into every physical building and met with every principal, my day-to-day is going to be to revisit those schools and do a little more in-depth analysis just to see some areas where we can strengthen by either greater security or just more-efficient processes."
Suozzi's job isn't entirely defined just yet. He said that lack of specificity is fine with him, and one of the reasons he was attracted to the job in the first place.
"That was some of the allure for me -- it was brand new and I can hopefully mold it or have a vision for what I think I can bring to the table," he said. "Having that law-enforcement background, I'm sort of the intermediary between the school district and law enforcement. I want to be that bridge, if you will."
Part of being that "bridge" will be to serve as the only district employee who can carry a weapon on school grounds.
In September, the Olentangy school board authorized Suozzi "to convey deadly weapons or dangerous ordnance in a school safety zone" and required "tactical training" and annual recertification in order to maintain that authorization.
During the September meeting, Raiff reaffirmed his confidence in Suozzi's role, and the board unanimously approved the resolution.
"We've been very specific in this resolution so as to not leave any doubt that this position will be the only position we're recommending, moving forward, to have the capability to possess a concealed-carry weapon," Raiff said. "Joe Suozzi is certainly qualified to possess a weapon. He is properly trained and has met extensive credentialing in that regard and will continue to be properly trained."
The district has six armed school resource officers.
Suozzi said anyone worried about adding another gun to school grounds "shouldn't have any concern," and pointed again to his background as a reason for confidence.
"I've been a law-enforcement professional for over 25 years, no different than the school resource officers that ... are authorized to carry," he said. "Obviously, we're seeing what's going around in the country, and I think it would be more of a disservice if I wasn't authorized than the fact that I am.
"I'm going to respond to any type of incident how I'm trained, so if I didn't have that ability, I think I would be putting myself in greater jeopardy," he said. "This is what I've done for my entire adult life, so it's not new to me. It might be new to the district, but it's not new to me as a professional."
Suozzi said he doesn't want to "be a public figure" and declined to have his photo taken for this story.
He said "people know who I am" around the schools, but said he's not interested in any "acclaim" or "notoriety" beyond the people he interacts with on a regular basis.
Now that his first career is complete, Suozzi said his current role seems like a "natural progression." After years of working with children in a law-enforcement or volunteer setting, he said his new position offers an ideal way to use his skills.
"I'm just one more person that's trying to make a difference by using my experience," he said. "I could've done a bunch of things as a second career, but I'm here for a reason."