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GREG BREWER, THE School Resource Officer in the Sullivan West school district, will no longer be on hand after June.

Police to troop out of area schools this year

By Jeanne Sager
SULLIVAN COUNTY — February 1, 2008 — Police are a relatively recent fixture in the Sullivan County school landscape, but it’s one that could soon be moving on.
The budget proposal outlined by Governor Eliot Spitzer cuts funding for the School Resource Officer (SRO) arm of the New York State Police.
It’s a program that has been paying for three troopers to spend time in five of the county’s eight districts – one in Sullivan West and the other two splitting their time between Livingston Manor and Eldred and Roscoe and Tri-Valley (the remaining districts are served by local police).
There the SROs are responsible not only for maintaining a police presence on school campuses, but acting as counselors to the kids, offering advice to staff and investigating crimes.
“It’s the old story – you’ve gotta attack crime on all levels,” explained Sullivan County Undersheriff Eric Chaboty. “In the schools, it’s preventative.”
The New York State Police started the program as the result of a U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services 2000 COPS in Schools grant in 62 districts, expanding it as the years went on throughout the state.
Troopers have been in Sullivan County schools for at least five years, surmised BOCES Superintendent Dr. Martin Handler.
With increased security measures demanded at every turn – including identification checks at school entrances and the locking of doors in the post-Columbine world – Handler said the removal of SRS is “contrary” to the direction of today’s school safety planning.
“I think this is outrageous,” Handler said. “I think it’s a safety issue for our schools to have these officers pulled out.”
“I’ve been in the business a long time,” said Sullivan West Superintendent Dr. Ken Hilton. “I remember when the thought of having a police officer in the schools was so foreign, but it’s not now.
“Times are different,” he continued. “Kids are different.
“I brag about how well-behaved our kids are,” Hilton said. “But even well-behaved kids have problems.”
The SROs represent a positive image of police in the community, Chaboty said.
Often they are students’ first experience with police, and they create a lasting impression on impressionable children.
And according to Handler, kids are often able to approach the SROs with issues they might not tackle with school counselors.
The SROs receive special training to ply their trade – they’re prepared to deal with the issues unique to a school setting.
For districts without a hometown police agency – Liberty and Monticello village police provide services to the districts within their borders, as does the Town of Fallsburg department – the State Police provide the only option.
It’s also an option that fits within a school budget – the SRO salary comes from the state police portion of the state budget.
In other situations, the districts have to shell out the funds.
The Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office provides a deputy to BOCES and Sullivan County Community College – with the schools footing a portion of the bill.
If the proposal passes muster with the state legislature, Hilton said he and other superintendents will have to look at their own district budgets to fund an officer’s salary.
The ultimate choice would lie with the boards of education to include the program in the budget presented to taxpayers for the vote in May.
Schools have traditionally put together their budget proposals in the dark – with no figures from Albany to guide their guesstimates of state aid.
Now they’ll be navigating the road unsure if they’ll have to find funds for an officer or if the legislature will give the program a stay of execution.
Captain James Boylan, zone commander at the Liberty barracks, doesn’t even know what this will mean for his own department.
The recent promotion of Eldred and Livingston Manor SRO Eric Patton had put Boylan on the search for a new officer.
He found one perfect for the job who would finish up duties at the academy in Albany in February.
“We had all intentions of sending him [to the schools],” Boylan said.
Now he doesn’t know what to do.
If the budget is approved as is, the SRO program will end in June.
The two officers currently working as SROs would be assigned back to the Liberty barracks, but Zone 1 of the New York State Police would lose three officers to Operation IMPACT – the same crime-fighting initiative blamed for the impending shut-down of the State Police unit at Monticello Gaming and Raceway.
Chaboty said he and Sheriff Mike Schiff will be keeping an eye on Albany to determine what kind of impact this might have on their own office.

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