School Resource Officer

Dear Friends,

We need a SRO. It stands for “School Resource Officer.” There’s some confusion about what that title entails. Simply put, it’s a mix between a security guard and a guidance counselor. Schools across the country use a triangle model to represent the duties of a SRO. The three sides are labelled with synonyms for “Teacher, Counselor, Enforcer.” In the middle is the word “Mentor.”

Grand Island Schools have had not had a SRO since 2013. It’s been a long-outstanding issue. There is grant funding in place now to pay for one for one year.  It would keep our students safe—mentally and physically. It seems like an easy decision. So what’s the deal? Why the endless discussion?

The school can’t hire an SRO

Under the law, the school cannot easily hire a security officer who carries a gun. To have an armed officer they need to go through a police department. Thus, the Town is involved in this school issue.

In other words—according to the draft contract—the Town must facilitate the hiring, but the school reimburses and indemnifies the Town for 100 percent of the costs, minus our donation of a 10-year-old Chevy Impala. Hiring is the extent of the Town’s involvement. If the school runs out of money for the SRO, they bear the challenge of finding funds.

Part-time option

The Officer Charge of the Grand Island Police Department is advocating for a two part-time SROs rather than one full-time SRO. His reasoning, in a nutshell, is better control and broader coverage. Please remember, however, that a part-time officer cannot exceed 19 hours a week under civil service rules. So if Officer A is out sick, Officer B cannot fill in. In reality, we would need three part-time SROs.

Where will we get them from? We already have challenges getting police coverage. All of our current officers work elsewhere — often up to 40, 50, or 60 hours a week. That’s why we have more officers in the Grand Island Police Department today than we have had historically. Back in the Supervisor Bunny Luther days we only had a handful. Now we have about 25. Thus, if we go the part-time SRO route we may struggle to cobble together full-time coverage.

Full-time coverage

That is, in part, why the School Superintendent wants a full-time SRO. He also wants a full-time SRO because it can fulfill more of the vision outlined by that triangle: teacher, counselor, mentor.

The problem is, the Town cannot hire a full-time police officer. A “title” has to exist in the Town’s inventory of positions. The title “full-time officer” (or any variation) does not exist. That’s a good thing, because not having a full-time police force saves us millions. Thank you to the Erie County Sheriffs for their hard work keeping our Island safe and for allowing us to have  a part-time force.

GML 209-V—the law that has everyone freaked

A full-time SRO looks like a good option to the School Superintendent, and there might be a way to make it work. There is a law, created after 9-11, that allows towns like ours to hire retired officers for additional security in schools. The idea behind the law is to allow highly qualified retired officers to put their skills to use in the community without creating the burden of full-time benefits, and retirement contributions.

These officers can work full time, but there is a caveat. They must be retired. Please remember, our part-time officers have a 12 to 16 percent Town retirement contribution obligation for currently-employed officers.

Some claim using this law would usurp power away from our Police Department because the Superintendent would have supervision over the SRO, not the Grand Island Police Department. Others claim this is some kind of scheme. I was afraid too, at first, that this idea might result in someone’s buddy getting a cushy post-retirement job.

It’s clear now, though, that our schools need a SRO. It’s unconscionable to hold off on the decision any longer. Town Board does the hiring, so we can screen as many candidates as we like, and the school pays the costs associated with hiring an SRO. Regardless of contract wording, getting a mentor and protector in our schools should be a priority.

What’s right for our kids

The bottom line is that I don’t care how it gets done. I just want it done. We’ve been waiting since 2013. Meanwhile, there’s nobody in our schools to fulfill the “Teacher, Counselor, Enforcer” role. I think we need to be mindful of what our Police Department wants, so we should address any chain of command issues to avoid some cowboy-esque SRO.

I don’t want to dismiss what the Superintendent says, either. A SRO should have a solid relationship with the student body and the faculty, and it’s a school initiative, so their input is key. This item goes back before the School Board next Monday. I look forward to their decision.

I’m ready to vote. The one thing no one seems to be talking about is what’s best for our kids. We need to get someone in there to protect and mentor them. The SRO is for your kids, my kids, and the community.

With highest regards,