Guns Or No Guns: Is That Really The Question Part IV: School Resource Officers: A Reality Check

It is hard to believe that School Board members, in supporting adding an SRO to the Middle School while opposing the rearming of the grounds monitors, actually thoughtfully reviewed the training and background standards of SROs in making this decision. In light of the minimal training and experience requirements for SRO positions, the choice to use more expensive SROs rather than to rearm the monitors seems to have been based on an exaggerated narrative regarding the expertise of the School Resource Officers (SRO). 

From all reports, we are fortunate to have two excellent School Resource Officers (SROs) working for the Saratoga Springs School District.  We have a policeman from the Saratoga Springs Police Department at the High School and a sheriff from the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department at the Middle School.

It is important to have a realistic assessment of what the qualifications for these positions are, however.

There are currently no standards, no minimum training requirements, nor certification process for SROs in New York State.  The only requirement is that they be an active duty law enforcement officer.  Any additional qualifications and  training  requirements are entirely up to the law enforcement agency employing the SRO.

As the correspondence I have added at the end of this post shows, the National Association of School Resource Officers recommends that active law  enforcement personnel who want to become SROs are only required to participate in a three day training program they offer.

I am not familiar with  the Saratoga County Sheriff Department’s requirements for training SROs, but I did get an email with information about the Saratoga Springs Police Department’s requirements from Public Safety  Commissioner Peter Martin which can be found at the end of this post.

According to Commissioner Martin the SRO employed by the Saratoga Springs Police Department participated in a  38 hour training program.  The officer assigned to the High School is a patrolman which is the lowest rank in the Saratoga Springs Police Department.

The required training for an SRO position whether the standard be what NASRO uses or that which the Saratoga Springs Police Department uses is pretty modest.  This raises the question of who is better prepared, an entry level law enforcement officer with one week of training or a twenty year veteran of law enforcement who has been through years of active training including active shooter training.  As the training for SROs is provided by the state police academies, the cost would probably be modest to provide this training to retired veteran officers such as the grounds monitors.  Adding this SRO training to a retired law enforcement officer who has had the benefit of decades of on the job experience could just be a better, more cost effective alternative to a much higher paid but less experienced SRO.

In correspondence  attached below, the executive director of NASRO cites some variables for consideration if retired law enforcement officers were to return to active duty to become an SRO.  He would want to know how long they had been retired, whether they were physically fit, and whether their skill sets were up to par. 

It should be acknowledged that being an active duty law enforcement officer ensures the person’s physical fitness and that they will receive  regular training in a variety of skills.  There are of course, ways that the school district could  build these requirements into a school security position that could be filled by retired officers such as the school monitors. .

As mentioned above the Saratoga Springs Police officer who is the current SRO at the High School is a patrolman. A promotion from patrolman to a higher rank would mean reassigning this individual to a different duty.  Since the kind of person who hopefully would be assigned as an SRO would have some impressive skills in areas such as conflict resolution, one would expect this person to be on a career track within the department to higher pay and more responsibilities.  The SRO position then is one subject to periodic turnover as new officers assigned to this duty move up the chain of command. Employing retired law enforcement officers who are fit and properly trained would provide a greater chance of continuity than an SRO.

An Aspect That May Have Contributed To The Insurance Carrier’s Position on SROs

There has been some confusion over the District’s insurance carrier’s position on school safety.  While they recommended two SROs be employed they declined to address the rearming of monitors one way or the other.  I think it is important to acknowledge the difference in liability between SROs and monitors.  SROs are employed by their respective law enforcement agencies.  In the Saratoga Springs District that would be the Saratoga Springs Police Department and the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department.  As employees of these external organizations any liability would be shared between the school district and the respective law enforcement agencies.  Monitors, on the other hand, would be employed by the district.  In this case the district and their insurer would be solely liable for their actions.  While this may not be the only reason the insurance carrier took a clear position only on the SROs, it may have been a factor.

The Warren County Model

Warren County has developed an interesting program to address school safety in an affordable way. 

The New York State retirement system limits income for retired law enforcement officers who take on publically funded jobs to no more than $30,000.00.  What Warren County has done is to hire retired law enforcement officers as temporary employees.  They work as SROs  until they hit their maximum.  The county pays  $22.50 per hour without health or retirement benefits.  This is $5.00 more than the armed grounds monitors in the Saratoga Springs School District had been making.   Contrast that to the $72,000.00 per year the Saratoga Spring School District pays for an SRO assigned by the local sheriff’s department with additional money coming from the County.

Warren County  circumscribes the job of an SRO to differentiate it from a regular law enforcement officer.  The contract under which these SROs operate precludes them from making arrests or involving themselves in the disciplining of students.  Any criminal activity at the school is referred to local law enforcement and any other student violations are referred to the school administration.  The goal is for the students to see these SROs as a resource in the interest of safety.

It is my understanding that the current contract between the union representing the police in Saratoga Springs and the city would not allow retired officers to be hired as temporary employees but it would be something to consider when contract negotiations come up again in the future.

Here is an excellent article about local SROs in general and Warren County in particular. 

The Bottom Line

The issues about employing staff to protect students is not a simple one.  In the end, it involves people of good will to be open and creative in engaging in how best we can find an affordable solution for protecting the students, teachers, and staff in the District.


NASRO

From Mac Hardy, Director of Operations, NASRO

Q: “Can you tell me if your organization supports active duty law enforcement (working part time as security for a school) and retired police officers carrying firearms on school campus?  My understanding is that NASRO does support them as School Security Monitors as long as they have undergone NASRO’s 3 day training seminar.”

A: “Yes, we strongly believe they need specialized training.” – Mac Hardy

From Mo Canaday, Executive Director, NASRO

From: Mo Canady <mo.canady@nasro.org>
Date: Thu, Mar 21, 2019 at 2:37 PM
Subject: FW: Follow up

Good Morning All,

In reviewing everything that you have sent to us, I have come to the conclusion that NASRO’s position on firearms on a school campus is very likely being used without proper context in this debate. 

Our guidance in no way automatically eliminates retired law enforcement officers (LEO) from the ability to serve as an SRO.  However, there is a right and wrong way to do this.  If a retired LEO is going to serve as an SRO, his law enforcement authority and credentials must be restored in order to comply with the federal definition of an SRO.  So an important question here would be in regards to the status of the Grounds Monitors.  It is my understanding that they are retired LEO’s but do they have full law enforcement authority as well credentials?

If the answer is no, then they do not fit the definition of on an SRO.

If the answer is yes, then they can certainly fit the definition.  But there are other variables to consider such as; how long they have been retired, if they are still physically fit to do the job, if their skill set has diminished.

I will use myself as an example.  I have been retired from law enforcement for over eight years.  I am in good shape, but not the physical condition that I was in when I retired.  And my skill set has certainly diminished.  I would not consider myself a good candidate to return to active duty at least at this very moment.  So the selection of retired officers must be done with great care. 

Retired officers can certainly serve effectively as SRO’s but within a very careful set of parameters. 

I hope that this is helpful to you. 

 Mo Canady

Executive Director 
NASRO


From: Peter Martin <peter.martin@saratoga-springs.org>
Date: March 26, 2019 at 10:40:34 AM EDT
To: John Kaufmann <>
Cc: John Daley <john.daley@saratoga-springs.org>
Subject: Fwd: SRO

John,

I believe that the term “School Resource Officer” has different meanings in different states.  In New York State, there are two sources of courses for active duty police officers that have been approved by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Service.  These organizations are the National School Resource Officer Association and the NYS Juvenile Officers Association.  Both have websites with significant information about their courses.  I believe that the courses offered by these two organizations are similar – they involve 38 hours of instruction over 5 days.  There is also an advanced course of study for an additional five days.

We currently have only one trained School Resource Officer in the Saratoga Springs Police Department.  We anticipate sending more officers for training this year.  When our SRO is not available, we do not have another officer cover unless there are special circumstances.  We do coordinate with the School District for extra police presence during certain events.  For example, we may send additional officers to cover a popular basketball or football game.  Coverage for these events is usually planned well in advance, although SSPD will respond with additional coverage whenever requested. 

Regards,

Peter Martin

 

Peter R. Martin
Commissioner of Public Safety
City of Saratoga Springs

One thought on “Guns Or No Guns: Is That Really The Question Part IV: School Resource Officers: A Reality Check”

  1. Thank you John for clarifying NASRO’s position. It’s a shame that despite your excellent reporting one of the school board candidates continues to mislead the community about both NASRO and NYSIR recommendation. These type of deceptive campaign practices have no place in a race for school board and should have no place in our community.

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