Just before the new school year, the Plattsburgh Common Council debated the idea of putting police officers in local schools at its most recent meeting.
An item on the agenda called for the Common Council to allow the mayor and city police chief to sign a contract with the city school district to provide a School Resource Officer for the 2019-2020 school year. An extended discussion occurred after Ward 5 Democrat Patrick McFarlin expressed discomfort about having police officers in schools. “I was against it last year. I have the same thoughts on it this year. I just don’t think it’s appropriate to be putting children in the kind of situation where they might have to deal with police officers unless it’s absolutely necessary and then you can call a police officer. And I remember when we got our School Resource Officer when I was in high school. I remember being a teenager and interactions with police was always a very uncomfortable thing. You know getting pulled over at that age was probably the most stressful time that you could have even if you weren’t really doing anything wrong. I just don’t think it’s appropriate.”
Ward 3 Democrat Elizabeth Gibbs is an English teacher at Peru Central High School. She noted that the decision to have officers has been made by the school board and the council is merely accepting the contract. “It’s an important distinction. It’s the school district that makes the decision about whether or not the officer goes in. We as a council are approving city officers to be part of that which I think is a good fit because it’s a city school district and we have a city police force.”
Plattsburgh Police Chief Levi Ritter explained they hire retired city police officers and use individuals with personalities that fit into a school environment for the role. “It does take a little bit of a different personality to entrust somebody in a school capacity. Just like I would want certain personalities assigned for narcotics enforcement, just like I would want a certain personality assigned for someone doing community policing, but you have to have a broader mindset when it comes to being in a school setting.”
Ward 4 Independent Peter Ensel was curious about how the contract deals with the School Resource Officer’s salary. “If the SRO’s are retired police officers are they being paid through the city or are they being paid through the school district and the school district is giving us the money and we pay them I guess….”
Ritter: “They’re being paid from the city and we are reimbursed dollar for dollar. The contract provides that whatever the cost is the school will pay for it.”
Ensel: “Why wouldn’t they be paid directly then from the school district?”
Ritter: “We didn’t want to overcomplicate it. Because they were our employees and they are contracting them out that was the arrangement.”
One councilor recalled past discussions related to liability and Chief Ritter noted that workers’ compensation and other ancillary costs are the responsibility of the city. “It comes down to the training aspect of why they are our employees being contracted out. So it made more sense to do it the way that we’re doing it.”
The council approved the contract on a 4 to 1 vote.