LYONS — As Wayne County Sheriff’s Deputy Rick Halvorsen returns to road patrol, what he will miss the most about his time as a school resource officer for the Sodus Central School District are the relationships he built with the students and staff that he is confident will always be there.
“They really are a family,” said Halvorsen of his stint at Sodus, which officially ended Dec. 31 when a Safe Schools Healthy Students grant to pay for the position ran out. “It took three years to build these relationships with the students. They were freshmen and now they are seniors ready to graduate. I’ll probably join them at graduation. Building those relationships was pretty cool.”
At one time, several schools across the county had officers walking the halls on a daily basis, reaching out to students to provide support where and when needed. During tough economic times, the school resource officers were cut, but Wayne County Sheriff Barry Virts would like to bring them back.
“I would love to put together a county-wide resource officer program,” he said. “I believe everyone felt safer when there was an officer in the school. It’s a more proactive approach to public safety. The model in Sodus has been fantastic.”
A typical day for Halvorsen was walking the schools, performing safety audits, working with administration and developing lasting relationships with students. Halvorsen even taught classes — the most recent was a non-bullying class addressing the federally mandated schools law Dignity For All Students Act. Available to all students, Halvorsen said administration kept him informed about at-risk kids. These students, he said, typically have problems at home and he worked extra hard to form connections with them while they were at school.
But Halvorsen said it was definitely worth the effort. In building relationships with the kids, they also learned that police officers are not a “machine” that go out and just arrest people, Halvorsen said.
“You’re walking through the paces with them,” he said. “You’re not their parent, but you’re somebody they can rely on.”
Virts would like to place a deputy in every school across the county. To accomplish this, he would need 11 deputies and one supervisor for the program. The deputies would be assigned to handle any problem that might arise in the school, offer security for students and staff and create preventative programs in the school. Virts said they could coordinate with state police and local police departments, and during summer months, those extra deputies would be available to provide “security” at festivals — typically an overtime expense for the sheriff’s office.
“It’s a quality of life program,” Virts said. “It would enhance public safety in and around the schools and help youth avoid trouble and make good choices.”
It’s a project the sheriff says he has been vocal about for years, but funding the program is a major problem. Virts said his number crunching has pegged the program’s cost at about $1.6 million.
“It’s a worthwhile endeavor,” said Jim Hoffman, chairman of the Wayne County Board of Supervisors. “I’d support it, but how it would get funded is the question.”
Hoffman said nothing has been formally presented to the Board of Supervisors.