ITHACA, N.Y. – The New York State Sheriffs’ Association called upon the state legislature last week to review the 2018 state budget to provide at least one armed school resource officer (SRO) in every grade school and high school in the state.

In a statement released last Thursday, the association stated that the rough estimate for the cost of the proposal would be approximately the same as adding one teacher to each school in the state. Between public and private schools throughout the state, there are roughly 6,750 schools with students in grades K-12.

This will be an expensive undertaking,” said Wayne County Sheriff Barry Virts, President of the New York State Sheriffs Association in a press release. “We spend many millions of dollars to protect a relatively small number of judges across the state, as we should. Surely we can also find the money to protect our most defenseless people – the children we send off to school each day.” 

Tompkins County Sheriff Ken Lansing said there are some SRO’s in schools around the state, but as law enforcement departments experience statewide cutbacks, police presence at schools has decreased as well due to lack of funds.

“This idea isn’t a new one, but we feel now it’s time to push harder to do something,” Lansing said. “We all know the urgency and the tragedies which seem to have been happening non-stop – it’s a sad set of circumstances.” 

With a larger police presence, Lansing said the goal is to transition schools into “hardened targets,” meaning that they would be less vulnerable to situations involving gun violence and shootings. Hypothetically, the SRO would help advise schools on the protocol to control access to buildings, and assist with installing improved security procedures, conduct lockdown exercises, and provide self-defense training in preparation for an active-shooter situation.

Sadly, many times when law enforcement arrives at the scene of a school shooting, everything is over and all the police officers can do is help the survivors,” Virts said in a release. “With an armed officer on duty in the school, such an attack may be deterred, or at least terminated quickly and hopefully without loss of life.” 

Lansing, who has spent nearly 17 years teaching D.A.R.E. courses in schools, said the presence of an SRO would not only be to protect in moments of crisis, but the officer would also be available for education and counseling purposes, while building a relationship with the school and community. In an SRO’s day-to-day routine, an officer would circulate throughout the school, offer special programs, lessons and build a rapport with students, faculty and families.

“They are there to build a relationship, but they are also there should a tragedy occur, and hopefully correct before lives are taken,” Lansing said.

With many facets to the growing issue, Lansing said this was just one way to take steps in preventing violence in schools. Between the mental health and gun control debates, he said the hope would be for an SRO to take on the role of both a protector and resource for kids to talk to.

During the Parkland, Florida shooting last month that left 17 people dead, armed Deputy Scot Peterson was at the school but but did not go into the building as the shooting happened. Peterson has since resigned, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

“I understand that many people may not be on board with this. I understand what they’re imagining – a police officer with their own AR-15 standing at the doorway,” Lansing said. “It’s not like we’re trying to create a military presence, and it’s definitely not going to be a cure-all, but we have to start doing something to make the world a safer place for our kids. 15 years ago, I didn’t even think we would have to talk like this, and I sure hope it changes.”

Alyvia Covert

Alyvia is a Crime Reporter with The Ithaca Voice. She graduated from Ithaca College with a degree in Journalism and Photography.