Officer position still on hold

FCSO to look at options for school district resource officer

JOHNSTOWN –The Fulton County Sheriff’s Department’s federal efforts to obtain a school resource officer for area schools is still on hold since last summer, but the department may pursue a different option.

Sheriff Richard Giardino said on Thursday that instead of continuing to seek the federal grant for a school resource officer, the county is “exploring the possibility” of seeking funding for what is known as a “special patrol officer” for school districts.

He said such a position could possibly be filled by a retired police officer that would be assigned to the district.

The sheriff may provide more details on the school officer issue at the next Board of Supervisors’ Public Safety Committee meeting Jan. 28 at the County Office Building.

Giardino said his efforts last year to secure a federal grant to fund a school resource officer for area schools has been hampered by an ongoing federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

He said the ACLU suit stipulates that entities receiving such officer grants must follow and enforce all state and federal laws. He said the ACLU alleges in its federal litigation that school resource officers allegedly targets illegal immigrants in schools, thus the grantee should not be funded because they are breaking the law through such activity.

The ACLU in 2018 issued several legal opinions and/or litigation related to school resource officers, according to the ACLU’s own web site. The group has urged school boards across the nation to reconsider adding school resource officers. The ACLU believes cops patrolling the hallways often creates a “school-to-prison pipeline.”

The ACLU believes funding mental health services is a more effective investment to mass school shootings, but some police agencies believe the public is clamoring for in-school officers.

The Fulton County Board of Supervisors last March 12 gave its “support” to seeking funding for a school resource officer for area schools. The board authorized Giardino to seek a $125,000 federal grant.

The supervisors resolution allowed application for a U.S. Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Grant for a three-year school resource officer program. The grant would provide partial funding for a rotating deputy school resource officer, contingent upon a local matching share provided by participating school districts. The officer would cost the school systems $7,000 per year apiece for three years. The county may pick up funding after three years.

Grant funding was said to potentially serve the Broadalbin-Perth Central School District, Wheelerville Union Free School District, Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville Central School District, Northville Central School District and Mayfield Central School District.

Supervisors last March also passed a separate resolution endorsing goals for the school resource officer program. One goal was creation of the armed officer to be “rotated periodically” to enhance rapport with students, parents and school staff. The officer will also be “available to assist each school’s administrators in their efforts toward security preparedness and prevention of incidents.”

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.

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