The Northern Westchester Examiner

County Police to Work as School Resource Officers in Somers

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imagesWestchester County Executive Rob Astorino proposed legislation under his “Safer Communities” initiative last week that will provide School Resource Officers (SROs) from the county’s Department of Public Safety to the Somers School District for the coming school year.

Somers sought assistance from the county in creating dedicated SRO posts in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn. school shootings last year when Astorino launched Safer Communities.  In addition, existing state police resources are not equipped to provide dedicated SROs to individual school districts, which created an opportunity for county police to help.

The proposed agreement sent to the Board of Legislators for approval calls for two county police officers to be assigned as SROs in the Somers. One officer will be assigned to the Primrose Elementary/Somers High School campus and a second officer will be assigned to the Somers Middle School / Intermediate School campus.

Astorino said the officers would be assigned as SROs for one school year, beginning next month. According to the agreement, the school district will pay the cost of the police officers’ salaries and benefits during the school year. When school is out, the officers will be assigned to other county patrols, and could be pulled from SRO duty as needed during emergency situations.

In response to the Newtown tragedy, Safer Communities has focused on ways that county and local governments, school districts and nonprofits can collaborate to offer practical and cost-effective ways to pool resources in order to prevent violence.

“The Safer Communities initiative is all about collaborating to bring resources together in ways that protect kids and families across Westchester,” Astorino said. “In this case, the county is stepping in with officers from our Department of Public Safety to fill a void. It’s a perfect example of how we can work together to share resources. What we are doing here is expanding the traditional definition of mutual aid so that we can adapt to current circumstances and share services more effectively.”

Public Safety Commissioner George N. Longworth explained how SROs can help prevent tragedies while fostering a safer environment within the schools.

“School Resource Officers work closely with school administrators to provide a safe and secure environment for students and staff. They maintain a visible presence at school buildings and grounds and provide a broad range of services to educators and students at the schools where they are assigned. We look forward to having a successful partnership with the Somers and North Salem school communities,” Longworth said.

For example, he said, School Resource Officers assist administrators in developing school security and emergency response plans, participate in lockdown drills, monitor hallways and parking areas, help screen visitors, perform security checks on exterior doors, direct traffic when needed and provide security at school and sporting events that draw large crowds.

SROs also provide student referrals to youth agencies and programs, participate in community-based drug and alcohol prevention programs, prevent or address bullying, and work with teachers to educate students about the dangers of underage drinking, drug abuse, driving while intoxicated, “cyber bullying” and “sexting.”

Westchester County police officers have served as School Resource Officers at the Anne M. Dorner Middle School in Ossining and Walter Panas High School in Cortlandt.

County Legislator Michael Kaplowitz (D/Somers), who represents part of Somers, supports the measure. “The safety of our children is our highest priority,” Kaplowitz said. “I am pleased that we will be able to provide the Somers and North Salem school districts with the officers they requested. At the same time, the agreement is fair to all Westchester taxpayers. The school districts will pay for the full and fair cost of these officers while they are working in the schools.”

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