ALBANY, N.Y. — A New York sheriff’s group and a state Senate Republican are pushing to have an armed police officer at every school in the state in the wake of the Florida high school shooting that left 17 dead.
What isn’t clear yet is who would foot the bill for placing an armed officer at each of the more than 6,700 public and private school buildings.
The New York State Sheriffs’ Association this week called on the Legislature to include funding in the next state budget for at least one armed school resource officer at every grade school and high school, which could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
There are about 4,500 school buildings in the 733 public school districts across the state. Private schools have about 2,000 buildings, according to the sheriff’s group.
Opponents of the plan point out that an armed officer didn’t stop last week’s massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The school had one armed resource officer who never entered the school.
Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Friday called for a trained law enforcement officer in every school in Florida by the time the 2018 school year begins.
School resource officers, or SROs, are typically local sheriff’s deputies or police officers. The number of SROs has dropped in recent years from about 400 to fewer than 200 full-time officers, the sheriff’s said. An SRO’s salary and benefits — which can range from $75,000 to $100,000 — is picked up by the school district, county government, or shared by both.
In New York City, enhanced security measures for the city’s 1,800 school buildings include active shooter drills to be held by mid-March and random screening by metal detectors at all middle and high schools. Legislation to put an armed officer in every New York City school passed the Republican-controlled state Senate last year, but didn’t pass in the Democratic-controlled Assembly.
“It’s important that we consider additional steps to protect students while they are at school and away from their families, and anything we can do to improve security has to be right at the top of that list,” said Scott Reif, a spokesman for the Senate’s GOP majority.
Sen. Patrick Gallivan, a western New York Republican who’s a former state trooper and Erie County sheriff, wants to see state-funded SROs in every school in the state.
“It is time to expand this program statewide, so that every school benefits from having a trained law-enforcement officer on-site,” Gallivan said.
Carl Heastie, speaker of the Democrat-controlled Assembly, is against the proposal and pointed out that having a trained armed officer on the premises didn’t prevent last week’s slaughter.
“More guns will not make us safer,” said Heastie, a Bronx Democrat. “We need to be talking about real solutions, and we need to pass common sense gun reforms that the majority of Americans support.”
The fact that the Broward County sheriff’s deputy assigned to the school didn’t enter the building to engage the shooter shouldn’t reflect badly on efforts to put SROs in every New York school, according to an upstate sheriff.
“The actions of that officer notwithstanding, it’s still a good proposition,” said Jeff Murphy, sheriff in rural Washington County. “This would provide us with positive interaction with students while also having an officer there who could respond to a threat.”
A less costly option to full-time SROs would be to hire retired law enforcement officers, according to the New York State School Boards Association, which said each school district should determine its own security and safety needs.
“What works in one community may not work in another,” said David Albert, the organization’s spokesman. “School boards should make the decision locally, in conjunction with students, teachers and the community.”