Ontario County restored school resource officers two years ago

The New York State Sheriffs’ Association is calling on state legislators to include sufficient funding to provide at least one armed school resource officer at every grade school and high school in the state, as part of the Legislature’s upcoming budget deliberations.

Ontario County, at least at the high school level, is in the second full school year of providing those armed officers in each of the school districts through a funding arrangement with school districts and county government.

The recession of 2008-09 and resulting financial hit had forced some schools to rethink the position, but Sheriff Philip Povero said the positions were restored in 2016.

Having a reliable source of funding would help districts avoid dropping the position when fiscal times get tough, according to Wayne County Sheriff Barry Virts, who is president of the state sheriffs’ group.

“Many school districts and local governments are unable to do it due to tax caps and limited funding sources,” Virts said.

Virts called the sheriffs’ request an expensive undertaking — about the cost of adding one teacher to each of the schools.

“... we owe it to our children, and their parents, to provide a safe place for education to take place,” Virts said in a prepared statement.

New York has about 4,750 public schools and nearly 2,000 private schools, and Virts said each school district and law enforcement agency would need to determine what works best.

First and foremost, the school resource officer is a police officer, charged with providing security and crime prevention services as well as doing their part in educating students, Povero said.

“The school resource officer is the best option for safety and security and assisting the school districts achieve their goals of having seniors graduate,” Povero said.

At local schools, SROs, as they’re known, have taken on mentor and instructor roles in addition to their law-enforcement duties, Povero said.

“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.

Although none of the officers has had to discharge a weapon in Ontario County schools, items that could be used as weapons have been confiscated and officers have responded quickly to potential threats made on social media, Povero said.

These officers also keep in regular contact with one another to share information and train together.

“We’re very fortunate the Ontario County Board of Supervisors has recognized the value of having trained, armed police officers in our schools,” Povero said.