Security in Washingtonville Schools
By Eugenia Moskowitz
Six years on from the elementary school shooting at Sandy Hook and just a few months after the Washingtonville Police Department, State Police, and the FBI intercepted and foiled plans of precision and damage that Washingtonville Police Chief Brian Zaccaro said could have been “catastrophic” at Washingtonville High School, the issue of school security is high on the list of concerns for Washingtonville parents, as evidenced by the turnout at the Board of Education meeting on June 18, and at the final meeting on June 27.
The question of who would pay for school security was the issue which held up the process of finalizing security plans when other schools did. But it was finally agreed that the school district would pay for its armed security, as other districts do. For Washingtonville, the plan (as of this writing) is to have one full-time SRO at the high school and two part-time Washingtonville PD officers at the Middle School and at Taft. Two more part-time officers will be at Round Hill and Little Britain, supplied by the Blooming Grove and New Windsor PDs, respectively. These part-time officers will cover the entire school day. While the police departments will pay for equipment and uniforms, the rest will be paid from the school district budget. In addition, Assemblyman James Skoufis has secured $50,000 from the state to be added into the Washingtonville district’s current 2018-19 budget specifically for school security.
After many meetings between Superintendent Roy Reese, former Head of Operations Kevin Sullivan (who left the Washingtonville district over the summer), Washingtonville Mayor Joe Bucco, Blooming Grove Supervisor Rob Jeroloman, New Windsor Supervisor George Green, Washingtonville PD Chief Brian Zaccaro, Blooming Grove PD Chief Carl Schupp, and New Windsor PD Chief Richard Hovey, Reese said, “Coordinating with three police agencies, two towns, and one village is complex. Each came to the table with their own ideas, and a solution had to be worked out.”
Washingtonville PD Chief Brian Zaccaro outlined a proposal which utilizes part-time officers at low cost. Retired officers specifically fit the bill as they have the pedigree of 20-plus years experience, are young enough in their 40s to still do the job, and don’t require benefits or a retirement plan. Washingtonville has a large number of retired NYPD officers who fit this profile. Village trustee Rich Calore said, “The school district suggested splitting the costs with the village. The school has a $99 million budget while the village has a $5 million budget.” Thankfully, he said, the school district finally agreed to paying the vast majority.
The three police departments now need to hire part-time officers from a pool of applicants who will complete the required training, which may not happen by the start of the school year but which will likely happen by early fall. Until that time, the same plan closing out the 2018 school year of having police officers in and around the school buildings will be in effect. As of this writing, Chief Zaccaro said there is no official contract yet but only what Reese has called “a gentleman’s handshake.” Zaccaro cannot move forward and hire without something in writing.
Reese said there will also be structural, cybersecurity, and communication updates in place by the start of the school year, though the details are not being divulged to the public for security reasons. At the July 2 BOE meeting, board member Jen Dellova said, “There are multiple layered ways to protect our kids: an SRO, cops, structural changes to entrances and egresses. There is no one single thing.” Reese added, “We have many enhancements in addition to armed security.”
Parents made it clear after the June 18 meeting that they do not support a reduction of the current Rieger private security team as they are the eyes and ears of the buildings, already know the students, and students are likewise familiar with them. They said that armed officers should be in addition to the current security staff already present and that, given the $99 million school budget, it would be unconscionable to cut corners. For example, Scott Davy, a retired NYPD officer with three children in the district, can be seen at the start and close of each school day outside Taft, watching both the perimeter and all movement within it while simultaneously high-fiving the students and making them laugh as they’re welcomed in. Parents at Taft pickup said security guards of Davy’s caliber of dedication, skill, and experience, combined with one armed officer per building, are a combination that would make them feel their kids are truly safe. “I don’t want just ‘a man with a gun,'” one parent said, “true security is more than just the sum of its parts.” Another parent added, “We don’t want the man to ever have to use the gun. Proper security means the gun will never need to be drawn. But it’s there if it comes to that.”
Rieger Security and members of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department were called in last spring to help inform Reese of what the Washingtonville district needs as he formulated personnel and structural plans going forward. And while contracts still must be negotiated, the Washingtonville Police Department has put out a notice for part-time police officers to apply. Washingtonville, colloquially known as “copville,” is unique in that it has the highest concentration of active and retired law enforcement officers in Orange County. Retired NYPD captain Kevin Radday said, “Retired officers here would beg to have the job of securing their kids’ own schools. It’s a dream job, and at a financial bargain for us as school district taxpayers.”
Six years after Sandy Hook, and directly after the school shooting in Florida, the threat came to Washingtonville’s doorstep and was caught in time by students who saw something and said something. The police chain of command from local to state to federal took care of the rest. Officers will now be a visible presence in Washingtonville schools, interacting in the daily ups and downs of student body life, both the good and the difficult. As with law enforcement officers everywhere, their presence will act as a deterrent and, if necessary, stop a direct threat.
The full cost for officers and other enhanced security has yet to be determined.
CAPTION: Washingtonville High School. (Photo by Eugenia Moskowitz)
A Look at the Valley Central Model
By Eugenia Moskowitz
The Valley Central school district, under the jurisdiction of Town of Montgomery Police Chief Butch Amthor, has for the past 17 years had armed part-time police officers, retired from their previous full-time jobs, to guard the district schools. This type of security plan utilizes trained experienced officers who can be paid no more than $30,000, far less than any full-time officer would have to be paid as they cannot “double-dip” for pensions or benefits, which they don’t need.
Referred to as locally-sourced policing, they are more cost effective than full-time SROs from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, which cost $110,000 per year per officer, including benefits and pensions. Another con against SROs is that such positions would likely be manned by younger officers who, because of their age, may feel unwittingly psychologically threatened by high school seniors just a few years younger than themselves, and have less street experience than 40-something retired officers who can be seen as mentor-figures young enough to adequately handle the job yet experienced enough to handle it well. Amthor said the Sheriff’s Office has been subtly pressuring school superintendents to go for this costlier plan, which he has patently rejected.
Armed part-time Valley Central high school police officer Andrei Giglevitch, a retired NYPD sergeant of 23 years, NYPD school sergeant of six years, and parent with two teens in the Washingtonville school district, said in a recent article in the Wallkill Valley Times, “Contrary to popular belief, the job is not about a police officer arresting people. It’s about helping students, helping faculty, accident reports, and settling disputes.” He can also stop a threat, such as minor threats of students against students, anger threats of students against faculty, and anything that may go beyond. After student assessment by a school psychologist, if the threat has “meat on the bone,” Giglevitch will notify his superior and steps may be taken to search a student’s home for weapons. Giglevitch is also present for all the positive day-to-day activities of students at the school. He’s a speaker at school assemblies as well as a mediator between students. A self-described “people person,” the students and faculty both seem to love him. And the cost for this? Just $30,000 per officer.