Sometime between 2006 and 2008 the Norwich School District made extensive renovations to the High School-Middle School complex.
During that time I was wearing dual hats of both Norwich police chief and fire chief. In my capacity as fire chief I was asked by the school project architects to review the plans for the mandatory safety aspects of the building’s fire alarms and suppression, a task for which I was not qualified.
I was however qualified to ask questions as the police chief about such things as intruder alarms, containment entrances to buildings, safety glass and positive door locks for classrooms. Surprisingly, I learned the only safety standards for school buildings were for fire. With respect to threats of today, there are few, if any requirements for security of students from criminal acts, which is much more likely than a building fire.
After the recent school shooting tragedy in Parkland, Florida, there’s been a collective call to have cops in every school building in New York. State Senator Fred Akshar on Monday held a School Safety Summit at the State Office Building in Binghamton with school administrators and law enforcement from around the region. A similar meeting was held last evening hosted by Bainbridge-Guilford District administrators along with the School Board in attendance. At both of these forums talked turned to having armed police officers in school buildings.
In my short tenure writing this column I have already covered the topic of “Cops in Schools” (Wednesday September 20, 2017) where I said “the final decision of having uniformed officers in a school rests with the local school board”. Well, it looks like that’s the way the tides are turning. This added taxable expense seems what parents want, even though there was little discussion about the cost. There was the mention of hope the state would include officer salaries in the State School Aid Formula.
If we reach the point where every school is going to have a police officer assigned, I would like to offer some advice on how this program might best be operated correctly. First off, the current method of having an officer pop in and out is not feasible if security is the end state. For this to work as parents envision, an officer needs to be at the school whenever students are present; this is known in police jargon as a Fixed Post. For every fixed post, there will need to be more than one officer because people take days off, call in sick or have other reasons to be away from their post. Sharing an officer between different buildings in the district is also dangerous because it may become predictable and easily subverted by those wishing to do harm.
Another topic that came up more than once was metal detector screening upon entering school buildings. This is also a labor intensive security element. Anyone traveling through an airport has seen how many people it takes to run this type of check-point if people are to make it through in a timely manner. And once a weapon or piece of contraband is located, at least one officer will need to leave their post to deal with the smuggled item and the offender.
There were discussions about using National Guardsmen for school security officers along with talks of retired officers being a source of manpower to guard students and buildings. From some of the responses, it sounded like the school administrators already learned a lesson about governmental red tape and regulations making the hiring of anyone with a gun is not as easy as it sounds.
If I had a magic wand that could grant the wishes of school officials and parents for a police officer in every school, here’s how I’d do it; I’d create School District Police Departments like those found in California, Texas, Nevada and other locations. There are a couple of model agencies already in place in New York State that could easily be copied and adapted for the school security mission. The first is the New York State Unified Court Officers. The Court Officers are a large ‘gun-toting’ agency with a presence all over the state. In Norwich at any given time, there are more court officers working than Norwich City Police Officers. And the Court Officers seldom, if ever, leave their assigned Court House. The Court Officers operate the metal detectors and do a great job of keeping everyone inside a Court building safe.
Another New York agency worthy of being copied is the State University of New York Campus Police. This is a state-wide law enforcement agency, yet officers answer to each individual SUNY college President. These officers are trained in specific student and campus issues that a municipal officer would seldom encounter.
If School District Police were ever formed, I’d suggest they work under the BOCES System as a headquarters. Each BOCES would staff a pool of officers that could be directed to districts when and where needed. Further School Police should be a part of the Teachers Retirement System in order to be true organization stakeholders for success.
By having School District Police there would not be any question “who’s in charge of me the Principal or Police Chief?” that I mentioned in my September 2017 article. I doubt this notion will ever happen anytime soon because there will be too much politics involved and fiefdoms to protect. I do believe this would be the correct way to bring a police officer into every school.