Weekly Feature

2017-12-07 / Front Page

Districts receive funding to support resource officers


State funding has been secured to continue the School Resource Officer program in the West Seneca Central School District, providing six uniformed officers in schools as a way to promote student safety, conflict resolution and anti-bullying initiatives.

Sen. Patrick Gallivan said $25,000 will be provided to West Seneca, as well as $30,000 for the East Aurora Union Free School District and $25,000 for the Iroquois Central School District.

Additional funding for each district program has come from local governments and school districts, the senator added.

“I am very grateful that West Seneca has seen fit to commit an incredible amount of money to support numerous school resource officers in their various schools,” Gallivan said.

Gallivan said it is important to acknowledge the critical role law enforcement is playing in schools.

“As a former state trooper and Erie County sheriff, I believe strongly in the SRO program as a way to ensure safety in our schools and build a positive relationship between officers and students. I’m pleased to see the program is not only continuing, but expanding,” he said.

The School Resource Officer program started in 2003 as a pilot program with two officers in the West Seneca schools, according to Chief of Police Daniel Denz.

“Over the years, we have grown our program to be a benchmark across the state. We have five school resource officers now, assigned specifically to the district every day,” Denz said.

One officer is assigned to each of the high schools and middle schools, and the fifth officer circulates among the district’s elementary and parochial buildings, the chief said.

Bryan French, Daniel Foster, Anthony Serafini, Matthew Kriegbaum and Michael Rybak are assigned to the West Seneca Central School District as school resource officers.

Officers are more than a police presence, Denz said, explaining that they are deeply involved in their respective schools, handling social media, individual meetings with students, running programs with the children and attending sporting events.

“They’ve become part of the system,” he said. “It is more than just being a security officer in a school.”

In West Seneca, officers develop driver education and drug recognition programs, and maintain the district’s DARE program.

Given that West Seneca is a first-ring suburb to the City of Buffalo, Denz said the community has some challenges as far as size and demographics.

“One of the major things that we do as a Police Department is [ensure] the safety of the students and the staff,” Denz said.

Matthew Bystrak, interim superintendent of the school district, said the School Resource Officer program has evolved immensely in his time with the district.

“The resource officers that we have in our district are an integral part of all of our schools,” he said. “I cannot imagine operating a district that does not have a School Resource Officer program.”

“Outside of the obvious — the security, the law enforcement angle — a school resource officer is so much more,” Gallivan said. “This is community policing at its best.”

“Think of the hundreds and thousands of kids that are in school buildings on a daily basis and the issues that come up,” Gallivan said.

“We have these trained officers that are in the community, walking the beat up and down the halls of the school, helping to solve problems, setting an example, guiding children when they’re at a crossroads, mentoring, teaching and, unfortunately, if they cross to the wrong side of the law, providing the appropriate law enforcement services,” he said.

Gallivan said incidents such as the Columbine High School shooting refocused the nation on school safety plans.

Iroquois Superintendent Douglas Scofield said the senator is to thank for re-establishing the School Resource Officer program after state troopers were removed from the district.

Officer Joseph DePlato started as a trooper with the Iroquois School District before becoming the district’s official school resource officer.

Scofield said one of the biggest challenges facing districts is the emotional issues children are facing both in and out of school.

“With him being there, he starts off with the safety that allows kids to feel more secure coming in, but then as they have these emotional issues they have someone they can talk to,” Scofield said.

Additionally, Scofield said, DePlato serves as a liaison between the district and other law enforcement agencies.

“He has direct contact with the state police, with the Erie County Sheriff’s Office. When something’s going on, we’re able to be linked to it and know about it immediately, whether it be criminal activity, a house fire or just something going on in society or the next town,” Scofield said.

From there, Scofield said, the district can effectively inform parents, students and the public of any necessary information or alerts involving the schools, providing students a sense of security and the relief needed to focus on their studies.

Gallivan said officers work closely with school administrators, faculty and staff on school safety plans and assist in required safety audits of all school buildings. They also visit classrooms and coordinate with teachers to present information on internet and social media safety, drug and alcohol abuse, heroin and opioid use, and personal safety.

An additional $110,000 has been secured by Gallivan for the Erie County Sheriff’s Office in this year’s state budget to support the officer program in the Alden, Holland, North Collins and Springville school districts.

Funding is also provided to Attica, Letchworth, Perry and Warsaw school districts.

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