Sheriff asks for $125K to fund school cop

Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino seeks authorization Monday before the Board of Supervisors’ Public Safety Committee to obtain grant funding for a resource officer to placed in the county’s rural schools. To the rear is county Civil Defense/Fire Coordinator Steve Santa Maria. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

JOHNSTOWN — Fulton County supervisors on March 12 will consider allowing Sheriff Richard Giardino to seek $125,000 in federal funding for a deputy resource officer to place daily in five of the county’s rural school districts.

The Board of Supervisors will also consider approval of a separate resolution committing to a comprehensive program to strengthen school safety within the county.

Giardino received approval on Monday from the board’s Public Safety Committee, which now forwards the two proposed resolutions to the board for its final consideration March 12.

“There’s a multitude of things we can do,” the sheriff said of school safety.

In a memo to the committee, Giardino stated, “Under the direction of the undersheriff [Daniel Izzo], the sheriff’s office has already been reviewing existing security in schools and making recommendations. The sheriff has also received permission to conduct regular walk-through of all schools in the county and carry out on-site training within the schools when students are on breaks. Formalizing these practices with additional training and resources will promote more interaction between law enforcement and our local schools to help them be better prepared.”

He said Izzo recently made security recommendations to Mayfield Central School.

Giardino is seeking permission to apply for a three-year, U.S. Department of Justice School Resource Officer grant for $125,000 on the condition that the five schools being considered — outside the two cities — agree to provide matching funds. He said the officer would cost the school systems $7,000 per year apiece for three years, but the county would pick up funding in a fourth year. The position would begin in August, working one day a week at each district.

If they agree, the grant could 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.

Giardino told supervisors the school resource officer would be “different” from the traditional DARE officer, but similar because the deputy would work on a rapport with the kids.

“It also provides an armed presence in the school,” the sheriff said.

He said three of the school districts are “onboard” with providing matching funds. He will meet Wednesday with another one of the districts.

“The hope is that once an officer is in the schools, they will see the value of it and support a second officer,” Giardino said.

The committee also endorsed an overall school safety program, which includes the resource officer and two other elements. They are a School Assessment Assistance Program and a New Neighborhood Plan school safety component.

“It’s the start of something and not the end of something,” said county Administrative Officer Jon Stead.

According to Giardino and Stead, the School Assessment Assistance Program will identify outside resources from federal, state and private organizations to be used for school safety. The Board of Supervisors would also consider endorsing a plan to appropriate $100,000 in the county’s 2019 capital plan to enhance school safety as part of year five of the county’s ongoing New Neighborhood Plan. The primary focus will be technology and equipment purchases that improve security.

Giardino mentioned reports that deputies waited outside during the Feb. 14 mass shooting that occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. He said the new Fulton County resource officer must be motivated.

“We have to have people willing to run into the building,” he said.

Oppenheim Supervisor Cynthia Breh, committee chairwoman, asked how funding works with the Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville Central School District, since St. Johnsville is in Montgomery County.

Giardino said something can be worked out with law enforcement in that village.

He also said even if the resource officer is available only one day a week, it is better than nothing.

“I don’t want the public to think this [resource officer] is there as a guard for the school, necessarily,” commented Gloversville 6th Ward Supervisor Warren Greene.

“Its got to be someone who wants to do it,” Giardino said. “Sadly, law enforcement failed on all levels in Florida. Hopefully, Warren, we get the right person to do the right thing.”

Greene said he would “hate to see schools become fortresses.”

Giardino said experts agree one point of entry into a school is preferred, possibly with a metal detector.

“Mayfield’s interested in doing that,” the sheriff said.

A better security situation would also to have cameras that the sheriff’s office on Route 29 can view of the inside of the schools, which he said is possible now with the Glove Cities’ schools.

But Giardino added he wouldn’t want to see “active shooter drills” for children as young as seven.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at [email protected]

By Kerry Minor

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