It's hard to put into words how unfortunate it is that public schools see the need for a school resource officer as more obligatory than optional.
Call it a sign of the times. While Norwich schools have a good arrangement with the city police department to have an NPD officer patrol its hallways, I learned this week of other local districts that are seeking a school resource officer from the Chenango County Sheriff's Office. A school resource officer (SRO), for those who aren't sure of the difference between that and an armed guard, is an employee of a police department whose job is to work closely with the administrators and students of contracting school districts. They are not employees of the school.
According to the Chenango County Sheriff, four local districts – Sherburne-Earlville, Otselic Valley, Greene and Oxford – and the DCMO BOCES campus in North Norwich have each approached the Sheriff's Office about adding an SRO in their buildings. All are willing to kick-in partial funding for one SRO to be shared among the five locations.
Naturally, one position spread across five separate budgets means less money for each district to kick-in for salary and fringe benefits, but still allows the police presence they're asking for. Incidentally, this is a proposal still in the very early stages, far from being a done deal. But because today's schools aren’t the bygone schools of my parents and grandparents (who, as I've been told, walked to school in six feet of snow, barefoot… uphill both ways) it comes as little surprise that school districts are willing to invest.
Millennials are under pressure not dealt with by previous generations. Sadly, broken homes are commonplace, and many kids are now growing up in households and in neighborhoods where public assistance is way of life. Add that to escalating pressure caused by a changing education system, a declining support system in the average working household, and growth of illicit drug use across the area, and it becomes easy to justify having an armed officer roam the hallways of public schools.
In spite of these issues, the proposition to add a school resource officer still beckons the question, is it a worthwhile investment? I recently heard of a 12-year-old student in a local district who entered the school building with a BB gun. Allegedly, the student had every intention of using it against the principal. Of course, anyone who's been pelted by a BB knows it's not a life threatening injury. Regardless, the incident rouses concerns of what would happen had it been a real gun and whether a student could just as easily have gotten a real gun through the doors.
Personally, I believe this incident alone is enough to get behind a school’s request for an SRO. This is not a tout for local law enforcement but rather a way to ensure schools meet the standards of safety expected by the community. Not to mention, I believe one adequately trained officer is a vast improvement over dozens of armed teachers (but that’s debate for another day).
It goes without saying that an SRO isn't a surefire way to prevent tragedy. But if it helps, how tight does a school budget need to be to account for not having one?