Area schools may want to find a way to return resource officers to their hallways, if it can be done cost effectively.
After the shocking Columbine High School attack on April 20, 1999 — the first in what, tragically, has become an all-too-frequent scenario of young people turning guns on their peers and school staffs — a new concern for school safety swept the nation.
The threat of violence was always omnipresent at inner-city schools, but before that serenity-shaking event, most parents in places like the North Country had never spent a moment wondering about the safety of their children during school hours.
But the two disturbed teens in Colorado — and too many others since then — have injected fear into life. Mothers, fathers, teachers, firefighters and police all share one terrifying thought: It could happen here.
Now, it is impossible to walk into a local school without being reminded that security is an issue. Cameras watch you, and locks hinder you. You almost certainly have to sign in.
And, for a number of years, police officers roamed local school hallways. In the years following Columbine, money was made available for schools to add “resource officers.”
In some cases, such as the City of Plattsburgh, a trained municipal police officer was assigned to the school. In others, a security guard or retired law-enforcement person was hired.
Grant money paid for the position, and schools raved about the results. Staff and students felt safer, the number of fights was reduced, and kids were connecting with the officers, turning to them for advice and guidance.
But, eventually, the money ran out. And with schools under pressure to cut costs, resource officers were deemed expendable.
On Dec. 14, 2012, the horrific massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut brought the sting back to our psychological wounds, and now there is renewed interest in protecting children in the classroom.
Salmon River Central School has had a St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Police officer on duty for years. Malone Central School District is hiring a resource officer for the first time in more than 10 years. The uniformed officer will share time between Franklin Academy High School and Malone Middle School, periodically visiting the district’s three elementary buildings.
District Attorney Derek Champagne’s office will pay for the officer’s uniform, weapon and insurance coverage; the School District will cover the salary of about $30,000.
Re-establishing a resource officer meshes with an effort that Champagne initiated last year. School security systems and safety plans were reviewed and training drills were held in Tupper Lake, Malone and Chateaugay. Live video feeds from inside the schools can now be monitored by 911 dispatchers, putting an extra set of eyes on any problems.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s much-maligned SAFE Act allows an armed police officer or peace officer on school grounds, so the idea is up for discussion.
It is budget time, and taxpayers will balk at unnecessary spending. But safety isn’t usually listed in that category.