Bemus Point Latest District To Add Resource Officer

The Bemus Point Central School District began the 2018-19 school year with a school resource officer patrolling both of its schools. The addition of Deputy Brandon Jones was met with positive feedback from the community, staff and students, Superintendent Michael Mansfield said. P-J photo by Jordan W. Patterson

BEMUS POINT — Following the tragedy in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 students and school staff members dead after an armed gunman opened fire with a semiautomatic weapon, local schools expressed concerns of school safety regarding secure entrances and the possibility of employing a school resource officer.

Discussions in federal and state government began to circulate last school year about potential funding being provided to schools for enhancing security that would include school resource officers. Even more recently, conversations within the Trump administration have been made public about potentially allowing school districts to arm school teachers.

The Bemus Point Central School District was one school in Chautauqua County that responded to the tragedy in Florida. The district held community forums to discuss concerns within the district about school safety. Those conversations ended with the board proposing a school budget that included funding for an SRO position.

The district approved the contract of $75,807.13 for the SRO position at a board of education meeting last week. The service will be provided by the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office. Deputy Brandon Jones has previous experience as a school resource officer working with Erie-2 BOCES. Superintendent Michael Mansfield said Jones’ previous experience was a bonus to hiring him.

“He has been making his way around to meet all the students and staff and is getting settled into some of the things we want to work on,” Mansfield said.

P-J photo by Jordan W. Patterson

Jones splits his time between the elementary and high schools. The bus arrival and departure times are different for both schools so Jones is present for each one. While Jones has only been with the district for a short period of time, he said kids have already approached him to tell them how safe they feel with his presence around the school.

“There’s definitely a big impact between the teachers and administration and the kids,” Jones said.

Mansfield said the district will be working with Jones to enhance security policies and practices in order to make Bemus Point the safest environment as possible. The superintendent also said the deputy’s presence has made staff and students feel more confident.

Bemus Point joins other local school districts that employ an SRO. Forestville, Silver Creek and Erie-2 BOCES Hewes and Loguidice centers, along with their facility in Cassadaga, have an SRO present provided by the Sheriff’s Office.

Falconer and Jamestown school districts also employ SROs through the Ellicott Police Department and the Jamestown Police Department, respectively. Falconer is also currently updating its entrances through a capital project in order to make entering school buildings more secure and safe as other districts have done in the past. Pine Valley and Clymer school districts also have a deputy substation within their schools that provide office space for deputies to operate from.

Sheriff Joe Gerace said school districts’ interest regarding SROs was piqued following the Florida tragedy. He said the Sheriff’s Office received more inquires following the fatal shooting.

“That was a spark for some of (the local school districts) to look into the cost and process of employing a school resource officer,” Gerace told The Post-Journal.

Gerace said schools are put at a disadvantage when hiring an SRO because they are obligated to provide all funding. Gerace said federal funding previously provided support for school districts that wanted to hire an SRO. During that time, the Sheriff’s Office provided resource officers to eight different districts. Now, schools are obligated to provide an SRO’s salary on their own.

“I would be very hopeful that the federal government would make the opportunity available for grant program with SROs,” Gerace said.

The Sheriff’s Office also provides an increased presence with several school districts. On top of SROs and deputy substations, deputies are also assigned to a district within their patrol areas. Deputies regularly visit their assigned buildings at random times throughout a given day.

The sheriff said there are “other initiatives in the works” related to school safety, but wasn’t able to comment further.

“I’ve been vocal about believing a school with an SRO program is a good fit,” he said.