Two other schools are looking to bring back a school resource officer this fall.
The Public Safety and Audit and Control Committees of the Chautauqua County Legislature both gave approval for Pine Valley and Frewsburg to have an SRO through the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office. The contracts require the two schools to pay $84,040 for their officers.
In June, The Post-Journal and OBSERVER reported that of Chautauqua County’s 18 school districts, nine did not have a school resource officer.
The Sheriff’s Office currently provides SRO for the Silver Creek, Brocton, and Forestville school districts. They also provide two officers for Erie 2 BOCES – one at the Alternative Education Campus in Cassadaga and the other splits his time between Loguidice in Fredonia and Hewes in Ashville.
During the Audit and Control Committee meeting, Undersheriff Rich Telford noted that the Pine Valley and Frewsburg school districts had had officers in the past. However, due to funding issues, including due to COVID-19, these positions have been eliminated.
Telford said those officers will work full-time in the schools. They will likely move current deputies into schools and then the sheriff’s office will hire for their positions they are leaving.
Lawmaker Dan Pavlock, R-Sinclairville, asked if it’s a challenge for the sheriff’s office when schools cut their deputies due to funding issues. “I understand why schools do it; they want to have it, but when you’re looking at a budget cut and they say, “Well, do we get rid of a teacher, do we get rid of an assistant, do we get rid of what about a bus driver?” Unfortunately, the Resource Officer is one of the first to do this,” he said.
Telford said that made it a challenge.
“When COVID hit we had to lay off three full-time officers and that was very difficult to do. Sometimes we can absorb it through attrition, but this time we couldn’t,” he said.
Telford noted that as they add these officers to schools, they don’t know if they’ll stay in their jobs a year from now. Going forward, he said the department may seek a two- or three-year contract with school districts for planning purposes.
He noted that the primary role of agents is protection, but they offer much more.
“They can go to a kindergarten class and talk about bike safety, and then they can go to a senior year class and talk about driver education and everything. In my view, it’s not just about having safety and security there,” he said.
Pavlock asked if the sheriff’s office ever visits schools that don’t have a resource officer.
“We do our best to make an appearance, just to walk around schools” Telford replied “In all honesty, it goes in waves, where the first or second week of school, every school will be covered. And then as things go, it fades, but we keep putting out reminders.
Telford added that state police are also doing their best to visit each school daily.
The full legislature is due to give final approval to both contracts at its meeting on Wednesday, August 24.