Government

State Officials Lobby for School Resource Officer Funding in Yorktown

fb34f41ed2c9617e6147_62060.JPG
State Sen. Terrence Murphy (R-Yorktown), at the lectern, calls for state funding for school resource officers during a press conference at Lakeland Copper Beech Middle School. Credits: Brian Marschhauser
fb34f41ed2c9617e6147_62060.JPG

YORKTOWN, N.Y. – Since the New York State Senate passed three companion bills in March that would provide state aid to school districts to hire school resource officers, 11 high school students have been killed by shooters in the United States.

Ten of those deaths happened at Santa Fe High School in Texas on May 18, when a 17-year-old boy armed with a shotgun and a revolver opened fire on his classmates. The other death occurred at Great Mills High School in Maryland on March 20. Though the 17-year-old boy killed a classmate, he was quickly confronted by a school resource officer, Blaine Gaskill. The two exchanged fire before the shooter turned the gun on himself. Gaskill was credited with preventing more casualties and bringing the incident to a quick end.

Another school resource officer was lauded for his actions on May 16, when a 19-year-old former student entered Dixon High School in Illinois armed with a rifle. The alleged gunman didn’t get far before Officer Mark Dallas confronted him. According to police, the former student ran away from the school, firing shots at the officer. Dallas returned fire, wounding the 19-year-old with non-life-threatening injuries.

Sign Up for E-News

Surrounded by school administrators, police officers, and elected officials on both sides of the aisle, State Sen. Terrence Murphy (R-Yorktown), speaking Friday at Lakeland Copper Beech Middle School, urged his colleagues in the Assembly to pass the bills.

“Our state budget it $168 billion and we can’t find money to protect our schools,” Murphy said. “Shameful. Absolutely shameful.”

Murphy’s bill, S7813A, “defines school shootings as terrorism,” enabling authorities to charge a shooting suspect with committing an act of terrorism if they discharge a firearm with 1,000 feet of a school, a place of worship, a business or any gathering of 25 people or more.

State Sen. Patrick Gallivan’s bills, S7811A and S7810A, meanwhile, would expand the definition of school resource officer (SRO) to include a retired police officer, deputy sheriff and state trooper, along with those on active duty, and enable school districts outside of New York City to receive state funding to hire SROs or pay for security services secured through municipal entities. It would also authorize SROs to be armed while on duty, provided they are licensed.

Gallivan’s bills would establish a grant formula to provide every school district with $50,000 for a single SRO, or $20,000 for each SRO hire. The bills would also waive the $30,000 earnings limit for retired government employees, allowing retired officers to be hired without losing their full pension and benefits.

A fourth bill would also provide districts with funds to hire a mental health professional.

Assemblyman Kevin Byrne (R-Mahopac) said these measures have been “caught up in politics.” He called on the Democratic-led Assembly to drop the partisanship and move this forward.

“We only have a few weeks left of session, so this needs to happen,” Byrne said. “And, if it doesn’t happen in the next two weeks, I strongly encourage the Assembly leadership to pull us back. I will come back after session to get this done.”

Dr. George Stone, superintendent of Lakeland Schools, said he was “shocked” to learn that the Assembly has not called for a vote on these bills. The Lakeland district has teamed with the town of Yorktown and Westchester County to put three SROs in its high schools and middle school. The district’s recently approved budget includes funds for five additional SROs.

“I can tell you that there is no greater feeling of reassurance from me as a superintendent than to drive up to our schools and see a police patrol car parked in the front and to know there is a trained, armed, uniformed police officer monitoring the school,” Stone said.

Currently, there are four uniformed Yorktown police officers who work in the schools: at Yorktown High School, Mildred E. Strang Middle School, Lakeland High School and Lakeland Copper Beech Middle School. According to a contract between the Yorktown Police Department and the Lakeland School District, the town pays for 50 percent of the officers’ salaries, overtime, holiday pay, fringe benefits and equipment, and the school districts pay the other half. The exception is at Copper Beech Middle School, where a large percentage of the students live in Cortlandt. For that SRO, the town of Cortlandt pays 25 percent, the town of Yorktown pays 25 percent, and the school district pays 50 percent.

According to the Lakeland contract, each SRO costs the district $111,580 in 2018 and will cost $113,810 in 2019 and $116,100 in 2020.

The police department’s contract with the Yorktown School District was not immediately available.

Lakeland Board of Education President Denise Kness said mental health and security measures have become very costly for local school districts. She urged parents to write to New York State and call on legislators to pass these bills.

“We need funding now,” Kness said. “We need common-sense legislation.”

Yorktown Police Chief Robert Noble said having officers in schools is more than just providing security in a crisis. Officers who students see on a daily basis become a confidant and a friend. Those students then feel more comfortable telling the officer when something is wrong. Noble said Yorktown has made several arrests regarding threats to school buildings.

John LaPlaca, a retired Yorktown police lieutenant and founder of Altaris Consulting Group, works with school districts to bolster their security. He said SROs are always a top recommendation of his.

“Technology does not respond to emergencies; people do,” LaPlaca said.

Yorktown Supervisor Ilan Gilbert, joined by Town Clerk Diana Quast, said his Town Board unanimously supported these measures at its May 22 meeting. Gilbert, a Democrat, said school safety should be a non-partisan issue.

“We don’t have the budget flexibility that the state or the federal government does,” Gilbert said. “We need help from above and I thank the senator for giving us that opportunity.”

Murphy said he is “cautiously optimistic” that New York State will exercise common sense, “for once.”

“Enough’s enough,” Murphy said. “We find billions of dollars to waste in New York State, we should find billions of dollars to harden our schools and make sure our kids come first.”

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Yorktown

Here's What You Missed Last Week

Last week, the Daily News ran a headline, “When is our father coming home?” This dealt with a person here illegally, married to an American woman with a family, who was arrested at an Army base while delivering pizza. You are supposed to think that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), under Trump, is tearing families apart. As usual, it was a crock of cow pies. It was ...

Remembering Bobby Kennedy

I’m not the type of person who is prone to hero worship. Witnessing people screaming hysterically during rock concerts never sat well with me. Yes, I did see many a great group (the Rolling Stones, Simon & Garfunkel, the Who, the Doors), yet my demeanor was always one reflecting inner peace rather than extreme exuberance.

I was offered tickets to Woodstock (yes, originally you needed ...

Competing—Against Yourself

This is the time of year when students are recognized at public ceremonies for notable achievements in their studies, their sports and in their extracurricular pursuits.

Where we live, there are awards in various sports that are named for our son, who also is memorialized by town ballfield Harrison Apar Field of Dreams and a charitable foundation of the same name.

Due to a rare dwarfism, ...

I Come from the Land Down Under

I know this is a family column, so I’m going to put this in as delicate terms as possible.

This morning I woke up and I knew, as sure as the sun shines over Bora Bora, that something was very, very wrong in that place in my body where the Bora Bora sun doesn’t shine.

It’s that place I used to refer to my daughter as her hoo-hoo. But it certainly wasn’t a happy ...

Andy’s at It Again

June 13, 2018

A couple of years ago, I wrote to question why Andy wasn’t citing his sources when he flings dirt at any Democrat he wants to malign.

Well, he’s at it again. In the latest iteration, he tells us that Obama was responsible for putting a spy in the Trump campaign. He then repeats himself three more times to emphasize his point, but gives no proof or evidence to back up the ...

Yorktown Youth Soccer Club Results

June 15, 2018

Sunday, June 10  - The Yorktown Crew clinched the Westchester Youth Soccer League JV-1 Division with a 4-3 win over Rivertown FC on Sunday. The team has been on a remarkable run for the past 2 seasons with a team record of 16-1-1. Sunday’s matchup vs Rivertown had a championship like atmosphere as Rivertown trailed Yorktown by 1 point in the standings. The Crew worked hard all week in ...