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Norfolk town board discusses providing police presence at schools

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NORFOLK - A Norfolk town councilman wants to see a police officer assigned to the Norwood-Norfolk Central School when school is in session.

Councilman Robert J. Harvey, who shared the idea with the town board at Monday night’s meeting, pointed to an incident in late January as the impetus for his proposal.

State police charged Steven R. Wells, 60, with third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, first-degree harassment and fourth-degree stalking Jan. 25 following an early morning incident at the school. He was wearing a shoulder holster with a black Desert Eagle BB pistol, which is considered an imitation pistol, beneath his jacket, troopers said. Wells arrived at the school at 7:20 a.m. seeking to deliver a package to a teacher he had spent time with in the days before the incident. The teacher told police Wells had been stalking her in the days prior to the incident. Wells was taken into custody without incident at the school that morning.

Mr. Harvey said with recent tragedies such as the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on many parents’ minds the incident increased the anxiety level.

“I have three kids up at that school and that (lockdown) scared the crap out of me,” Mr. Harvey said. “I think with what’s been happening in other states, and with what happened (at Norwood-Norfolk schools) three weeks ago, we’ve got to do something.”

Norwood-Norfolk and Parishville-Hopkinton shared a school resource officer through the New York State Police for a number of years, but that program was eliminated in then Gov. David Paterson’s 2010 budget. The 90 troopers that had been working as school resource officers were assigned to more traditional policing duties.

Mr. Harvey noted the town of Norfolk has a number of part-time police officers on its payroll, who alternate to provide the town with 48 hours of police service throughout the week. Only one officer is on staff on a shift. He suggested officers could be assigned to work at the school.

Supervisor Charlie A. Pernice responded favorably to the idea, but he said there would be some “significant hurdles” to clear in order to determine how to fund a position. He noted that the school’s students encompass five separate townships as wll as the village of Norwood and a funding mechanism would need to be develop to share the cost of the post.

Mr. Pernice said they would also have to determine whether the school or local government should pay for the position and if Norwood police or Norfolk police should staff the position.

“There are so many pieces of the puzzle that have to come together,” Mr. Pernice said. “I would be willing to sit down with the village of Norwood and the school for discussions.”

Mr. Harvey noted he would need to have more discussions with school and local government officials to determine how they would staff and pay for such a position. However, he recommended two retired police officers staff the position on a part-time basis in order to avoid the high costs of providing benefits such as health care and retirement.

Though welcoming the idea as a cautionary step toward safer schools, some board members questioned whether a police officer would be able to prevent a tragedy from occurring.

“If the school and (town board) want to bond together to fund an officer, I think that would be good. (But) as far as stopping something like (the shooting at) Sandy Hook (from occurring), I don’t think that can be done,” Mr. Pernice said. “If someone wants to do evil, it’s virtually impossible to stop them.”

Some board members noted Newtown police and Connecticut State Police arrived promptly at the shooting scene and yet the gunman was still able to take the lives of 26 women and children in the short time that he had in the school. Some board members wondered if the officer would be able to reach a part of the school where a criminal activity was occurring before state or local police responded to it.

Mr. Harvey hopes a police officer presence at the school could at least prevent a possible criminal from “running rampant” in the school for a longer period of time. Still, he believes a police presence at the school is critical to provide a safe environment for students.

“Someone has got to do something. It’d be good to have anything at the school, even a police vehicle parked out front (may deter crime),” Mr. Harvey said. “I really think the taxpayers of Norfolk would like to see some of our police at the school.”

He recommended a community forum be held to give town residents and the parents of Norwood-Norfolk students who reside in other townships an opportunity to discuss what type of security they would like to see at the school. Mr. Harvey said he was still in discussions with School Superintendent Elizabeth A. Kirnie and Norwood Mayor James H. McFaddin on how to fill and fund a school resource officer.

Councilman Donald I. Purvis noted the concept of school security is a difficult issue to face, given how important a child’s safety is to a parent and given the difficult budgetary situations facing many schools, Norwood-Norfolk included.

“It’s a very sensitive issue. We all know what happened at Sandy Hook, and we all don’t want it happening in our community, but how do you fund it?” Mr. Purvis asked.

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