HOMER — When students return to the Homer School District in two weeks, they will see a new presence in their building: school resource officers in each building.
The district always had one — primarily stationed at the high school — but it is working with the Homer Village Police Department for 2018-19 to station one in each of its four buildings: the elementary school, the intermediate school, the junior high and the high school. It will continue its use of an evening officer for the shift beginning after school, said Schools Superintendent Tom Turck.
“What we wanted to do was expand that so there was more visibility and more interaction with kids in all the buildings,” Turck said, with the idea younger kids form connections with a member of law enforcement. “It’s an additional trusted adult that our kids can interact with.”
The Homer Village Police Department is providing the officers, who are retired and employed part-time, and the district will refund the department for the cost.
They are police officers, with the authority and access to records that comes with that role. This means they may know which students might need support, if for example their family just had a domestic incident.
Each one costs about $30,00 a year, Turck said.
Homer Village Police Chief Robert Pitman said they are all retired police officers:
• Quintin Jiles, a retired state trooper and former canine handler, at the elementary school.
• David VanOrden, a retired Homer village police officer, at the intermediate school.
• Randy Andrews, a retired police officer and juvenile detective from DeWitt, at the junior high school.
• Mike Bort, previously a resource officer for East Syracuse-Minoa High School, at the high school
• Kevin Soderholm, a retired Cortland police officer and canine handler, will take over evening duties.
Pitman said the initiative to increase SROs in the disrict came from former superintendent Nancy Ruscio, who approached him about it last year. He said it was a good idea, because having the SRO at just the high school only left other targets in the event of a school shooting.
Jiles, at the elementary school, serves a particularly important role, he said.
“Everybody keeps saying, why do we need one at the elementary school,” Pitman said.
“Well Sandy Hook was an elementary school and that was the worst one. And I don’t ever want to see that happen again and I don’t ever want to see that happen in the village.”
The elementary school resource officer provides other functions, too.
Custody disputes are more prevalent at that age, he said, and those students may also not have had contact with a police officer before, so daily contact with a familiar officer builds trust.
“For most of these kids it’s going to be their first exposure to law enforcement so he’s got the most important job, he’s got to show we are approachable,” he said.