Essex County Sheriff Richard Cutting is making the push yet again to re-visit the notion of deputies patrolling the halls of area schools with the designation ‘resource officer.’
Following a slew of tragic incidents of school violence — from Sandy Hook to Alton, IL — many districts and municipalities have been quick to make the emotional decision to place full-time law enforcement personnel in the hallways of their buildings.
While Essex County schools have been fortunate thus far, we are not blind enough to think that a tragedy is impossible in our own backyard. However, is a $72,000 county or district-funded price tag the answer to maintaining a safe educational environments for our youth?
In our opinion, the answer is no.
The Essex County Board of Supervisors Ways and Means Committee voted 1458 to 1463 in a weighted vote this week to allow Sheriff Cutting to apply for a Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant that would pay up to 75 percent of the salary and benefits for four new resource officers for area schools.
The remaining 25 percent of the funding would ultimately be the responsibility of the county.
At a time when the county board has struggled to put a lid on spending, how can an unallocated $72,000 be a feasible request?
In our opinion, it simply is not.
And, what happens to the four new deputies once the COPS grant funding dries up, as it inevitably will? Will the entire cost of the four deputies then have to be born by county taxpayers? We can’t see county lawmakers laying anyone off.
From 1999 to 2003, resource officers patrolled the halls of schools in Ticonderoga, Moriah, Keene, Crown Point, Schroon Lake, Minerva, Newcomb, Westport and Willsboro. Cutting’s request comes with scant statistical information from the past justifying the need for these officers.
It is our opinion that if resource officers are seen as a must-have by the school districts, it should be a district-by-district decision and it should be paid for from their own monetary resources.
With district budgets barely passing in some places it seems like a reach, a far reach.
The argument can be made that with a 13-deputy department, there is no reason deputies or even State Troopers can’t make stops into these districts as part of their regular routine and work day, without the need for more officers, more hours and more funding.
The schools in our communities have maintained a manageable level of safety in coordinating with local law enforcement about safe practices. In Ticonderoga, a multi-unit drill was conducted earlier in the year to educate law enforcement, first responders, teachers and students alike to respond to internal and external threats.
Efforts like those listed above would be beneficial to all districts throughout the county, but asking schools or taxpayers to pick up a sizable tab is not.
Student and child safety is always at the forefront of conversation when tragedies like the one in Sandy Hook occur but we can not simply continue to write checks that we have a hard time cashing. While a sum of this amount may seem like a small price to pay to deter possible criminal acts, the story will be exceedingly different in the years to come when budgetary constraints become increasingly more dire.
Schools have already implemented a number of safety precautions, including zero tolerance policies, locking doors and taking any and all threats in a more serious manner. The coordination with local law enforcement already serves as a deterrent to crime — a full-time, taxpayer funded bouncer is simply not a safety net we can afford.