OSWEGO — Oswego County Sheriff Don Hilton has announed a program designed to fortify safety measures at local schools by offering full-time, armed personnel to each of Oswego’s nine school districts.
Known as school resource officers (SROs), Hilton said the officers would be sworn sheriff’s deputies trained in active shooter and other specialized situations.
“Their main priority is school safety, the security of the school,” the sheriff said in an interview with The Palladium-Times. Hilton described SROs as “eyes and ears with student population with a focus on prevention of problems and being aware of particular students in distress or making threats.”
“The cost is minimal, that’s why we are offering this,” Hilton said. “(SROs) are the most important element of school safety.”
Hilton estimated the cost to districts at approximately $63,000 and said it would be “ridiculous” to not take advantage of the resource.
“I'd like to offer one for every building the county,” Hilton said.
Hannibal Central School District (HCSD) will be one of the first districts to adopt the program.
HCSD Superintendent Chris Staats said district officials are finalizing terms and conditions with the sheriff’s office to bring two SROs on board for the upcoming school year.
The two officers, Staats said, will rotate between schools and buildings within Hannibal’s district.
“We want our students to be able to build healthy relationships with law enforcement and for them to have role models,” Staats said.
Parents, Staats added, play an integral role in the process of schools devising safety measures such as having a single point of entry.
“We appreciate the level of confidence parents have in us and we appreciate their respect for the rules and code of conduct,” Staats said.
The Central Square Central Schol District last fall hired three SROs of their own to be stationed at Paul V. Moore High School, Central Square Middle School and the four elementary schools within the district.
Central Square Superintendent Tom Colabufo said the upcoming school year’s capital project, which includes a $12 million safety and security budget, will add one more officer to the current taskforce.
“Bringing in a fourth (SRO) is going to really help us make sure we have more of our elementary schools serviced,” Colabufo said.
The SRO program is part of a recent trend in education expenditure, according to experts.
According to a 2017 study compiled by the National Center for Education Stats, the percentage of public schools with a plan in place in the event of a shooting has increased from 79 percent in 2003–04 to 92 percent in 2015–16.
Some districts such as the Oswego City School District (OCSD) partner already with their local police departments for SRO coverage and don’t anticipate taking part in the sheriff’s program.
OCSD Superintendent Dr. Dean Goewey told The Palladium-Times the district has a “tremendously productive and positive” relationship with the Oswego Police Department.
At the direction of Mayor Billy Barlow and OPD Chief Tory DeCaire, the department has provided a school resource officer on campus at Oswego High School for the last several years.
Sergeant Lorie Burger, a frequent uniformed sight in the halls of OHS, is a “great representative for police officers and a great role model for our students” said Goewey.
Goewey also called OCSD “one of the best places for school safety in the region,” adding the district has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years to beef up security measures and monitoring.
A complete rebuild of the high school main entrance opened at the beginning of the current school year, providing a single point of entry into the building.
In addition to the SRO program, Sheriff Hilton said he will implement eight two-day active shooter training sessions during July in Sandy Creek. The program is meant to prepare county law enforcement agents for the 2019-20 school year.
“Our next focus will be on just public buildings in general,” Hilton said. “There are county buildings, and all the Wal-marts and the restaurants. We want to move this plan so it can be used anywhere that we encounter a threat.”