CATSKILL — The Greene County Sheriff’s Office will push on with its plan to assign school resource officers to three school districts despite the Greene County Legislature’s disagreement on paying for it.
The legislature’s Public Safety Committee rejected the resolution at a special meeting Monday.
Public Safety Chairman William Lawrence, R-Cairo, Legislature Chairman Kevin Lewis, R-Greenville and legislators Pat Linger, R-New Baltimore, and Aidan O’Connor Jr., D-Durham, voted in favor of the resolution. Legislators Lori Torgersen, D-Windham, and Charles Martinez, R-Coxsackie, voted against it. Legislators Harry Lennon, D-Cairo, and Kevin Lennon, D-Catskill, were absent.
When a legislator is absent it counts as a no vote, Lawrence said. That changed the vote from 4-2 in favor to a 4-4 tie. Using the weighted vote as a tiebreaker, the resolution was defeated.
The weighted vote system is calculated using population and the number of towns are in the legislator’s district. “The people that were absent, we had to look at their weighted votes and we found out we were short,” Lawrence said.
The resolution called for four officers to be placed in the Cairo-Durham, Windham-Ashland-Jewett and Greenville Central School districts for a three-year term starting Sept. 1 and expiring June 30, 2021 for security and to act as role models for students, according to the resolution. Police unions have been contacted about the plan.
Cairo-Durham would have two officers. Greenville and WAJ would have one each.
The Greene County Sheriff’s Office has dealt with shooting threats in the Windham-Ashland-Jewett and Greenville school districts this year.
Each school district would pay $55,000 for the officers and the county would contribute $31,000 for the officers and their benefits, Lawrence said, adding that the Catskill and Coxsackie-Athens school districts have school resource officers. Hunter-Tannersville declined to participate in the program.
“Children especially are vulnerable to people coming in off the street to a school and shooting it up like they did in Parkland, Florida,” Lawrence said. “The investment of money for the sake of somebody’s children is well worth it.”
The school resource officers are certified in use of firearms, they have arrest powers and they have a superior at the Sheriff’s Office they report to, Lawrence said.
The resolution can be brought up again but it has to be proposed by a legislator who voted against it.
“The school year starts in four weeks, so it’s going to be tough to have the schools wait for us to get our act together,” Lawrence said. “I don’t know what plan B is going to be yet, but I’m hoping we’ll come up with something.”
Greene County Sheriff Greg Seeley was disappointed with the outcome of the vote, but he remains committed to having the school resource officers ready to serve once the school year begins, he said Tuesday.
“Unfortunately due to the nature of what’s going on in this country, we must protect our kids,” Seeley said. “The safety and well-being of these kids is No. 1.”
When school isn’t in session, the officers could be used for road patrols and festivals, Lawrence said.
“During the summer when we’re the busiest here in Greene County, we could use those officers,” Lawrence said.
Martinez doesn’t oppose having school resource officers, but he disagrees with the county helping to foot the $125,000 bill to for them because the county funds numerous other services.
“If the school districts pick up 100 percent of the costs of the deputies and all the benefits and everything, then I’d go for it,” Martinez said. “The school’s got to step up to the plate. They got to play the full shot.”
The Sheriff’s Office will seek out grants once the resource officers are in place to help defray costs. The county and the school districts could opt out of the program if neither believes it’s working, Seeley said.
“We cannot just say we’re not going to do it,” Seeley said. “These SROs are fully trained. They go to training every year.”
Seeley plans to meet with the legislature to discuss the program further and he has spoken to the school superintendents. “Hopefully we can rectify it with the legislature,” Seeley said. “If we can’t, we’re still moving forward with it.”
Seeley said he recently spoke with Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo, who is placing 11 resource officers in school districts throughout his county.
“We’re not taking this lightly, we are committed,” Seeley said. “We think we can get it done.”
Torgersen supports school resource officers, but said the legislature was given insufficient time to discuss the program in detail. It was discussed once during last week’s Public Safety meeting, she said.
“The legislature didn’t have a meaningful discussion about it,” Torgersen said. “I very much hope to see some discussion with the legislators involved about what would be the best way to roll out an SRO program.”
To reach reporter Daniel Zuckerman email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @DZuckerman_CGM.