The New York State Sheriffs’ Association recently called upon the state legislature to include sufficient funding in the 2018 state budget 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, but we owe it to our children and their parents to provide a safe place for education to take place.” said Barry Virts, NYSSA president and Wayne County sheriff. “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.”
There are about 4,750 public schools and nearly 2,000 private schools educating students in grades K-12 in the state. NYSSA estimates that the cost of this proposal would be roughly equivalent to that of adding one teacher to each of these schools.
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,” Virts said.
The number of SROs has dropped in recent years due to lack of local funding. Some schools already have SROs that are funded by the school district, 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,” Virts said. “Many school districts and local governments are unable to do it due to tax caps and limited funding sources.”
Sheriff Jeff Murphy, of Washington County, is an advocate for SROs in his county.
“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,” he said. “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 NYSSA’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, but the most important thing we can do is to get an armed deputy or police officer into every school immediately,” Murphy said.
NYSSA 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 indicated a preference for stationing an armed security officer at a single school entry point. Others, including Murphy and Sheriff Bud York, of Warren County, 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,” Virts said. “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.”