Plattsburgh City Council Approves Armed School Resource Officers

Aug 31, 2018

The Plattsburgh Common Council on Thursday approved hiring two armed resource officers for the city school district.  The move follows a contentious city school board meeting last week on the topic.

Last week, the Plattsburgh city school board approved hiring school resource officers, who will be armed.  The plan also had to be OKed by the police chief, who presented the plan, and the common council.  At Thursday’s meeting, councilors considered a resolution to authorize the mayor and chief to sign an agreement with the school district for this year for two officers. Chief Levi Ritter has decided that the officers will have flak jackets and be armed.

Resident Ira Barbell has concerns about putting armed officers in schools even though it is a tangible effort to make schools safer.  “However most schools don’t face any serious threat of violence and armed officers in the schools are not likely to be confronted with little more than boisterous disrespectful childhood behavior.  There’s never been a question about whether schools need to be safe. Of course they do. But is the hiring of school resource officers the best strategy to improve school safety?  The research on the use of school resource officers indicates that the benefits are unclear.”

Chief Ritter explained that he tried to be analytical as he decided to hire armed resource officers based on conversations with school officials.  “There is a larger perception of what a school resource officer is. Our particular school resource officers are not going to wear a police uniform.  They will be armed but they’ll be wearing a polo shirt that’s very distinct so as to seamlessly integrate into the school buildings. The wishes of the school district was to have an officer that was capable of being a law enforcement component in the buildings but something that was a little softer.”

Common Council members had numerous questions for Chief Ritter ranging from costs to details of the job description.  Ward 5 Democrat Patrick McFarlin delved into the job description and implications for students and city liability.  “The city would be liable for any acts of these resource officers is that correct?”
Ritter:  Yes

Ward 6 Democrat Joshua Kretser questioned the eligibility requirements. “Do they have to have to have served as a police officer…”
Chief Ritter:  “Yes.”
Kretser:  “…in order so it couldn’t be like a security guard or something ?”
Ritter:  “No it is very specific the special requirements. They must be retired municipal, sheriff’s department, state police, corrections, parole or probation.”

Ward 1 Democrat Rachelle Armstrong, who worked in a school with a resource officer, noted it’s a common practice.  “I don’t believe that the value is strictly to protect from a mass shooter. The value comes from…”
Ritter:  “It’s simply one…”  
Armstrong:  “…the relationship.”

But not all the councilors think armed resource officers are a good idea. Ward 2 Democrat Mike Kelly opposed the measure.  “I don’t think that putting additional police officers in schools is going to decrease violence at all. I don’t think it’s necessarily going to increase violence either. And I also wonder about the financial ramifications. The school board really can’t afford this. Yeah this is a great thing to do but can we really afford to do this? And I say no.”

A former school board member, Ward 3 Republican Dale Dowdle countered.  “The obligation of a school district and a school board is to serve the students not to serve the taxpayers. So they would approach their budget a bit differently than we approach ours. But their obligation is to first to serve the students, not at any cost but at maybe what it takes.”

The resolution passed 4 to 2 with Kelly and McFarlin opposing.