Local school leaders say cops in schools meet long-awaited need

Above in a July 11, 2019 picture, the Oswego County Sheriff's Office holds a large-scale active shooter drill at Sandy Creek Elementary School. 

OSWEGO COUNTY — With the first month of school nearly in the books, the Oswego County Sheriff’s Office says it’s received positive feedback from district leaders about the newly implemented school resource officer (SRO) program, designed to add an additional level of security to building infrastructure.

The move is part of a growing statewide trend among public education institutions — the latest statistics on school safety by the National Center for Education Statistics from the 2017-2018 school year say 46 percent of public schools and 19 of charter schools had a school resource officer present. In New York, the quantity of SROs has doubled to nearly 400 since Jan. 1, 2019, according to a recent report by the New York State School Boards Association.

All nine Oswego County school districts currently employ the services of SROs and Oswego County Sheriff Don Hilton said his officers are in use at seven districts. The cities of Fulton and Oswego’s SROs are drawn from the ranks of the respective cities’ police departments.

“We’re getting requests for more and we anticipate the program will grow,” Hilton said.

The Central Square Central School District this year raised their roster from three to four SROs, who Superintendent Thomas J. Colabufo called a “huge part of our team.”

“They each greet students every morning with a smile and words of encouragement, as they genuinely enjoy establishing positive relationships with students, parents, and staff,” Colabufo said. “The safety training they will continue to provide our staff and students will continue to foster a safe and secure environment, with no additional cost to our district.”

Earlier this year, acts of both state and county legislatures passed to allow school districts to recruit retired law enforcement officers as SROs through the Oswego County Sheriff’s Department. A May resolution passed by the county Legislature authorizes the sheriff’s office to receive more than $110,000 from local school districts to recruit one full-time SRO in each building.

SROs are required to be armed, with sworn-in law enforcement credentials, according to the National Association of School Resource Officers. Hilton said these specialized police officers receive standardized training geared toward maintaining safety in a public school environment.

At a recent meeting with local school district superintendents, district officials told Hilton they “couldn’t be happier” with the presence of SROs in their schools, Hilton told The Palladium-Times in an interview Monday. 

“The biggest thing for them is getting to know the students and being an extra resource to the district,” Hilton said.

Kyle Faulkner, superintendent of Sandy Creek Central District, told The Palladium-Times the SRO program meets a long-awaited “high need” for local districts like his without a municipal police department at their disposal.

“In this day and age when you have to worry about the safety and security of staff and students more than ever, it’s great to have a person in our building every day who can respond to anything that comes up,” Faulkner said.

Aside from keeping a watchful eye over the school’s security infrastructure, Hilton said SROs take on counseling and leadership roles, instructing students on their role during a drill and lending an ear in times of stress. 

“It’s certainly the case that they’re building relationships with the kids,” Hilton said. “If they’re not being listened to by fellow students, this is one more resource they can reach out to.”

Oswego City School District Superintendent Dr. Dean Goewey said Oswego Police Department Sergeant Lorie Burger, a ubiquitous presence in the halls of Oswego High School and at district events, is a beloved, critical member of the Buccaneer family.

“Sgt. Burger is a great liaison between administrators and kids,” Goewey said. “She has the perfect mix of demeanor between law enforcement officer and counselor.”

Mayor Billy Barlow said it was important to provide schools with resources to protect staff and students “now more than ever.”

“We are once again ready and proud to assist the Oswego City School District for the school year and I believe we’ve demonstrated to other municipalities that this arrangement works,” Barlow said. “An SRO is the first line of defense should a situation arise and offers direct protection to our students.”

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