Legislators authorize SRO program

A resource officer patrols the halls at Indian River High School. Watertown Daily Times

CANTON — The St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators unanimously passed a resolution this week to establish a school resource officer program for school districts in the county.

The resolution, passed by the board’s Operations Committee in December and by the full board during its organizational meeting Monday night, said there had been “interest and requests” from school districts in the county to have an SRO “to ensure a safe environment conducive to enriched learning.”

The SROs will be a county sheriff’s deputy assigned to work in collaboration with a school, and their role will be to serve as a protector, enforcer, first responder, mentor and community liaison, according to the resolution.

“What was the reasoning behind a retired corrections officer not being able to be an SRO?” asked Legislator David W. Forsythe, R-Lisbon.

St. Lawrence County Sheriff Brooks J. Bigwarfe responded that, under the Civil Service rules of qualifications, corrections officers don’t qualify because they’re not police officers, but peace officers.

In an earlier interview, Mr. Bigwarfe said Herman-Dekalb Central School, Edwards-Knox Central School, and Ogdensburg City School District expressed interest in the program. He said Potsdam Central School already has an SRO through the Potsdam Police Department.

This program establishes an SRO program through the county Sheriff’s Office, rather than local police stations.

“I support this, and fully think it’s important for officers to be in school districts for the safety of students because I’m responsible for the safety of every citizen in the county,” Mr. Bigwarfe said.

He said deputies would undergo specific training to be an SRO through the Municipal Police Training Council.

There, he said, officers are trained in deescalation tactics, dealing with students with disabilities, and other safety measures.

He said the call for SROs in schools does not reflect a rise in danger within them.

“We want to be proactive, and anything we can do to stop any of the dangerous things from occurring in our schools, we should do,” he said. “We always want to be preventative.”

Under the program, Mr. Bigwarfe said there would be one officer per school. That officer would be armed, he said, for their own protection as well as for the protection of anyone in the school.

“With active shooters out there, it’s important that officers can protect staff, faculty and students at all times,” he said.

Although Mr. Bigwarfe said the No. 1 reason for the SROs is safety, he added that another component of their presence would be to build a positive relationship with students. They could also be used for educational purposes, with officers giving talks on drug and alcohol abuse, child abuse, internet safety and careers in law enforcement, among other safety topics.

“I’m really glad to see this resolution going forward,” said Legislator Larry D. Denesha, R-DeKalb. “I think it’s very important we do this because, although we’re somewhat isolated in St. Lawrence County, we’re not immune, and I think it’s an opportunity for us to be proactive.”

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