Gerace Supportive Of Association’s Call For State Funding Of SROs

The New York State Sheriffs’ Association is pushing for the provision of at least one armed school resource officer in every grade and high school throughout the state, and Chautauqua County Sheriff Joe Gerace is all for it.

The association announced Thursday that it is calling on the state Legislature to include sufficient funding in the 2018 state budget to support such a measure, further stating that the safety of New York students and educators is a more than worthwhile expenditure.

“This will be an expensive undertaking,” said Wayne County Sheriff Barry Virts, president of the New York State Sheriffs’ Association, “but we owe it to our children, and their parents, to provide a safe place for education to take place. 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.”

Gerace, a trustee for the Sheriffs’ Assn., had previously voiced his support for more school resource officers in a previous interview with The Post-Journal in the aftermath of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. As a member of the NYSSA, he further elaborated on his thoughts following Thursday’s announcement.

“I couldn’t agree more with the direction we’re going as sheriffs,” Gerace said. “I believe schools should have the ability to employ a school resource officer, and we should hopefully get to see the expansion of this program across the state.”

“This is a triad approach because that officer doesn’t just provide security for the facility but also serves an adviser and presenter,” he continued. “We present in class and talk about lots of things, including how police agencies use math and sciences in crime scenes, and we’re mentors to the kids. The important thing about being in the schools is developing relationships with young people and creating positive influences which can thwart the kind of the unfortunate things we’ve seen in schools across the country.”

Gerace said the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Department at one point employed eight school resource officers, but that number has decreased to three. However, he said, he has been receiving inquiries from a number of county school districts about the process and costs associated with bringing a school resource officer to their respective districts, even prior to the Feb. 14 shooting.

“When we had those (school resource officers) it was through a three-year grant, but eventually the federal money dried up and the district was put in a position where it had to choose between funding educators or funding school resource officers,” he said. “That’s a terrible position to be forced into, so we’re looking for both state and federal funding to prevent that from happening again. Regardless of where the funding comes from, it needs to be done.”

The Sheriffs’ Association acknowledges that there are many ways to approach this issue. Each school district and law enforcement agency would have to figure out what works best in that district. Some have indicated a preference for stationing an armed security officer at a single school entry point. Others, including Washington County Sheriff Jeff Murphy and Warren County Sheriff Bud York, support the use of retired law enforcement officers as an economical way of getting well-trained armed officers into schools.

There are about 4,750 public schools and nearly 2,000 private schools educating students in grades K through 12 in the state. The Sheriffs’ Association estimates that the cost of this proposal would be roughly equivalent to that of adding one teacher to each of these schools.

School resource officers provide an armed police presence while building relationships with the school community, however, like in Chautauqua County, their numbers have dropped statewide due to lack of local funding. Some schools already have school resource officers that are funded by the school district, the county government, or both.