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Shen closing in on selecting school resource officers

Shen closing in on selecting school resource officers

Two cops will be stationed at the district
Shen closing in on selecting school resource officers
Saratoga County Clerk Craig Hayner speaks during the swearing in ceremony for new deputies in July.
Photographer: Erica Miller

CLIFTON PARK -- Shenendehowa Central School District will, by the end of the month, choose two school resource officers to be stationed at the district for the entirety of the upcoming school year.

Shen superintendent L. Oliver Robinson said district officials, along with representatives of the Saratoga County Sheriff's Department, will interview the candidates during the last week in July to find the best fit for Shen.

He's hoping to come back to the board in August for approval of the selected candidates.

Shen has been trying to bring school resource officers to campus for months, after hearing concerns from parents, students and educators about school safety in the wake of a February school massacre in Florida.

The resource officer plan has been formed in conjunction with Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo, who announced in May that his office would partner with area schools on a program that would keep resource officers at districts long term. 

The resource officers will not be district employees, but they will have an office on campus and designated parking spaces. They will patrol Shen's various schools during the school day and possibly at events that fall outside normal school hours, including sporting events and school dances.

Shen will pay the Sheriff's Department $144,826.70 each year for the officers.

The resource officer candidates -- several are expected to be deployed in regional schools -- have spent the past week in a training program meant to prepare them for work in a school district.

According to a memorandum of understanding approved by the school board, the officers are to maintain a constant presence at the school while maintaining a peaceful environment, serve as an immediate resource in any crisis situations for students and staff members, and teach students about violence prevention, school safety, substance abuse and numerous other issues via presentations and assemblies. 

It is not the job of the resource officers, Robinson said, to discipline students.

"We are not criminalizing kids at all," he said. "That is not our objective."

Deputy Ken Cooper of the Saratoga County Sheriff's Department said the resource officer training focuses on teaching officers how to adhere to policies and procedures of the school they're assigned to.

"Obviously, when you get incorporated into a school system, you have to adapt," said Cooper, who runs the Sheriff's Department's active shooter defense and school resource officer programs. "We want them to be a part of that community. You've got to adapt."

Cooper said discipline issues will be the responsibility of school administrators, not resource officers. The primary goal of the resource officers, he said, is to keep students and staff safe, and to serve as mentors and educators.

That means maintaining a presence all day at the schools, including when students get on and off buses in the morning and the afternoon, he said.

The candidates, Cooper added, have a wide range of police experience, some with four years and some with more than a decade. The most important thing, he said, is picking out people who will do well in schools and can work within district parameters.

"This job is not for everybody," he said.

Another part of the resource officer's job will be building positive relationships with students. It is crucial, Cooper said, for students to see the resource officers as advocates, not adversaries. Sometimes, Cooper said, a student's only interaction with police has been during negative situations.

To familiarize the school communities with the officers, Cooper said, most districts will conduct assemblies and community events.

"We want to make sure that when we get into these schools, we're not seen as bullies," he said.

In June, Saratoga County officially approved contracts with nine area school districts that would station 11 officers throughout those districts.

In 2010, Shen had a school resource officer from the state police who was primarily stationed at the high school. That officer was paid through a state program that has ended, however. 

Shen has two high school buildings, three middle schools and eight elementary schools. The student population is just under 10,000. The Saratoga County Sheriff's Department recently recruited more than 20 new officers who, once they go through training, will fill the spots left open on the force by the resource officer candidates.

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