During the most recent Plattsburgh Common Council meeting, councilors refused to renew a contract with the city school district to allow the police department to provide school resource officers. The move surprised both the school district and the police chief.
For the past two years, the Plattsburgh City School District has employed two School Resource Officers, or SRO’s, provided by the city police department. The arrangement is approved annually by the common council.
During their most recent meeting, councilors reviewed the contract for the 2020-2021 school year. Ward 5 Independent Patrick McFarlin staunchly opposed the idea. “In my opinion there is absolutely no reason for police officers in schools. It does not provide the right culture for a school. Anything that a police officer can do in a school another counselor, teachers, coachs they can do. It does not make schools more safe.”
He swayed the council, which voted unanimously to reject the contract. Police Chief Levi Ritter was surprised. “For it to be a unanimous no you would think that there would be some communication. I had consulted the city attorney with the contract just to make sure that it was in order. Really the only thing that has changed over the past two years is changing the dates. We’ve kept the contract the same. But yes a bit surprised.”
Ritter adds that he has made presentations to councilors explaining the SRO’s are more than security guards. “There’s always the stigma of they’re arresting somebody or they’re breaking fights up. You know they sit on the school safety boards and they make recommendations based on their training and experiences with regard to safety. So they provide a unique look into things that educators or administrators might not have firsthand knowledge of.”
The cancellation of the contract has further upset relations between city officials and the school administration. Plattsburgh City School District Assistant Superintendent for Business David Baroody wrote an editorial in the Press-Republican, saying the council’s decision was “a petty attempt to stick it to the ….School District because of past arguments and hurt feelings.” Baroody says neither the district nor the school was informed there was a pending vote. “I also think that the council decision to vote down the SRO contract, which was led by Councilors McFarlin and (Ward 3 Democrat Elizabeth) Gibbs, to be politically motivated due to those two individuals past and current comments toward policing and school resource officers.”
Baroody says SRO’s provide a positive example and as students return to a hybrid regimen they would have an important role. “It’s extremely disappointing to lose our SRO’s in the middle of a pandemic when children have experienced such tremendous isolation over the past few months. And they would have been instrumental in ensuring the feeling of safety with our staff and students but also providing a secure environment for our entire school community.”
Other schools in the region utilize sheriff’s deputies as school resource officers and Baroody says the Plattsburgh City School District is now “weighing their options.” The school district paid all costs for the two officers from the city police department who are retired, do not arrest students and do not wear police uniforms.