School Safety Officers bring sense of security, community to district

If there’s one thing that Goshen’s new school security officers can agree on, it’s how much they enjoy their new roles in the district.

Uniformed police officer
Sergeant Christopher Smoulcey, Supervisor in Charge of Student Safety, Village of Goshen Police Department

Officers John Augeri, Anthony Palazzola, Orlando Perez, Patrick Russnak and Martin Torres each began their positions as school safety officers (SSO) in September, after the district’s School Resource Officer Agreement was unanimously approved by the Board of Education.

Last school year, in light of school shootings that occurred across the United States, district officials began working closely with the Village of Goshen and the Goshen Police Department to create the School Resource Officer (SRO) Agreement. This five-year partnership places a full-time uniformed police officer in each school building during school hours.

Uniformed police officer
Officer John Augeri, NYPD, 26 years

“After a number of tragedies across the nation, the district worked diligently to place school safety officers (SSO) in its schools to help alleviate the concerns of our community,” said Superintendent Daniel Connor.

“Student safety is – and always will be – the district’s number one priority, and school safety officers will help strengthen relationships between the district, community and local law enforcement.”

Uniformed police officer
Officer Anthony Palazzola, Village of Tarrytown, 32 years

An armed, uniformed SSO is stationed at each of Goshen’s four school buildings while school is in session. According to Sergeant Christopher Smoulcey, supervisor in charge of student safety, having an SSO present in schools is about more than physical safety and deterring crime – it provides social and emotional safety as well.

“Our officers are visible to parents, students, employees and visitors every single day, which gives peace of mind and helps to build a sense of community,” explained Smoulcey.  “It also helps break down barriers between the police and the public and allows the children to have a better perception of police officers as a whole. It’s a positive experience for everyone.”

Uniformed police officer
Officer Orlando Perez, NYPD, 20 years

Officers interact with students each day, joining them outside the building when buses arrive to school and waving goodbye as they head home after dismissal.  Their patrol cars are parked, in sight, outside each building. SSOs are stationed near the main entrance of each school, but many times can be found walking around the buildings, high fiving students, joking with staff, visiting cafeterias during lunchtime and joining students outside during recess. In addition, SSOs help with the district’s safety plans and drills and help to strengthen communication with local law

Facts About School Resource Officers (SROs)

A successful SRO program is focused on building healthy relationships between law enforcement and members of the school district to benefit individual students and the greater community.

What is a school resource officer (SRO)?

Uniformed police officer
Officer Patrick Russnak, Orange County Sheriff’s, Office, 25 years

An SRO is a career law enforcement officer who is assigned to work in collaboration with one or more schools, by federal definition. SROs are assigned by their employing police department, agency or sheriff’s department to this specific, community-oriented patrol duty. Unlike a security guard, an SRO is a sworn law enforcement officer with the authority to make an arrest.

What is the role of a school resource officer?

Uniformed police officer
Officer Martin Torres, NYPD, 22.5 years

The National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) considers it a best practice to use a “triad concept” to define the three main roles of school resource officers: educator (i.e. guest lecturer), informal counselor/mentor and law enforcement officer. While the role of a school resource officer can vary from district to district and from SRO to SRO, functions of an SRO include the following:

  • Mentor
  • Counselor
  • Information resource on safety and law enforcement matters
  • Protector and enforcer
  • First responder
  • Community liaison
  • Educator
  • Emergency response planner
  • Investigator

Does an SRO carry a gun?

Yes. In most cases, an SRO carries a gun, just as they would if they were on regular duty. Goshen’s SROs are armed.

Does New York state require school districts to have an SRO?

No. New York state does not require public schools to have SROs, nor does it provide any funding for schools to acquire SROs. The New York State Legislature considered bills in the 2018 session related to state funding for SROs as well as allowing retired law enforcement officers to serve as SROs, but no action was taken.

What is the return on investment for districts with an SRO?

While studies are still emerging about the value of having a school resource officer in a school district, a Carleton University study released earlier this year indicates that SROs can improve overall school culture and climate. According to the report, benefits of having an SRO include:

  • Prevention or minimization of property damage in school buildings and surrounding areas.
  • Prevention of student injuries (including death) due to violence, drug overdoses, and other medical emergencies.
  • Reduction of the need for schools to call 911.
  • Reduction of the likelihood that a student will develop a criminal record.
  • Increase of the likelihood that students (particularly those with mental health issues) will get the help they need from the social service and health care systems.