The New York State Sheriffs' Association proposed Thursday that the state provide funding for armed police officers in schools, a proposal that I think should have some legs if the state can prioritize where and how it spends our tax money.
That is a big if, unfortunately.
While there are many issues at play in this tragic wave of school shootings, the best way to protect schools is with police on hand during school hours.
It can be done at a discount, as there are many police officers who retire and wind up in part-time jobs that don't use the skills and training they have accumulated over decades in law enforcement. Putting them in schools in a rotational schedule would allow them to keep their pensions and also continue to serve the public, as many want to do.
The Warren County Sheriff's Office has long used retired state troopers, sheriff's officers and municipal police officers for inmate transportation and security at county buildings, and it has worked well.
Unfortunately, this program does not address the mass shooting issue itself. If someone is intent on killing and wreaking havoc, the only way to stop them is to make sure they get help and don't get the weapons they would use for killing. That is going to be a lot tougher to do than hardening our schools as we have hardened every superior court and federal building I have ever visited, however.
But a school security upgrade is long overdue.
The Sheriff's Association news release is below. Our local sheriffs are actively involved in the association, and two are cited for their input in these discussions. (Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo was not quoted, but he has been in the middle of the talks as well).
Albany, NY – February 22, 2018 - The New York State Sheriffs’ Association today called upon the State Legislature to include in the 2018 State Budget sufficient funding to provide at least one armed school resource officer at every grade school and high school in the state.
“This will be an expensive undertaking,” said Wayne County Sheriff Barry Virts, President of the New York State Sheriffs’ Association, “but we owe it to our children, and their parents, to provide a safe place for education to take place.”
“We spend many millions of dollars to protect a relatively small number of judges across the state, as we should. Surely we can also find the money to protect our most defenseless people – the children we send off to school each day,” Sheriff Virts said.
There are about 4,750 public schools and nearly 2,000 private schools educating students in grades K through 12 in the state.The Sheriffs’ Association estimates that the cost of this proposal would be roughly equivalent to that of adding one teacher to each of these schools.
School resource officers (SROs) provide an armed police presence while building relationships with the school community. “The relationship of trust formed with the students often allows the SRO to gain critical timely information and intervene before an issue becomes an incident,” Sheriff Virts said.
The number of SROs has dropped in recent years due to the lack of local funding. Some schools already have SROs that are funded by the school district, the county government, or both. “The only way to assure that every student has the protection of an armed officer in close proximity is for the state to provide a reliable funding stream for SROs. Many school districts and local governments are unable to do it due to tax caps and limited funding sources,” Sheriff Virts added.
Washington County Sheriff Jeff Murphy, who is a strong advocate for SROs in his county, pointed out: “Sadly, many times when law enforcement arrives at the scene of a school shooting, everything is over and all the police officers can do is help the survivors. With an armed officer on duty in the school, such an attack may be deterred, or at least terminated quickly and hopefully without loss of life.”
Sheriffs across the state work with their local school districts to “harden” schools as targets. This includes advising schools on hardware and protocol changes to better control access to school buildings, installing security cameras, conducting “lockdown” exercises, and providing “active shooter” self-defense training to school staff and students. Many schools are enrolled in the Sheriffs’ Association’s Rapid Responder program, which allows those responding to a school emergency immediate electronic access to critical information on the school’s layout and infrastructure, staffing and student personnel. “All of these preparations are important,” Sheriff Murphy said, “but the MOST important thing we can do is to get an armed deputy or police officer into every school immediately.”
The Sheriffs’ Association acknowledges that there are many ways to approach this issue. Each school district and law enforcement agency would have to figure out what works best in that district. Some have indicated a preference for stationing an armed security officer at a single school entry point. Others, including Sheriff Murphy and Warren County Sheriff Bud York, support the use of retired law enforcement officers as an economical way of getting well-trained armed officers into schools.
“Any of these would be better than nothing,” said Sheriff Virts. “Most Sheriffs feel the BEST solution is to assign active deputy sheriffs or other active police officers to the schools as SROs who would have the freedom to move about the campus, “network” with students and staff, and either head off an incident before it happens or at least be there on scene to immediately respond.”
The New York State Sheriffs' Association, Inc. is a not-for-profit corporation, formed in 1934, for the purpose of assisting sheriffs in the efficient and effective delivery of services to the public. It is comprised of all the elected and appointed sheriffs of New York State.