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“It’s desperately needed,” Nick Ingle said of school resource officers. “An officer does so many things at the school. You’re a counselor, you’re a mentor. There are kids that give you problems, but they come from shattered homes, but this is a kid that if I had the time to work with him, he might straighten out.”

Ingle was an instructor at the training, which was held at the Washington County Law Enforcement Center from July 16-20. He is an active school resource officer in Guilderland.

Ingle has worked with many students, but one former middle schooler sticks out. The student was going through difficult times, and Ingle told him he might have to put handcuffs on him in the future with the path he was taking.

“As much of a problem as he was, I told him I liked him,” Ingle said. “You know, he was worth so much more than what he was doing.”

Once the student moved on from the district, it would seem they’d never talk again … until Ingle’s phone rang years later.

“(The former student) goes, ‘Hey, do you remember me?’ ” Ingle recalled. “I say, ‘Yeah.’ (He replies,) ‘At first, I thought you were being a jerk, saying that to me. I got heavy into drugs and now I am in a youth minister program. I am clean of drugs and you know what? I wanted to reach out to you and tell you that now I understand what you were trying to do.’ ”

Ingle saw how his role in the school could have a direct impact on a student’s life.

He believes in-school officers must lighten up and be open to the students to be most effective. They should seek to bond with students, eat lunch with them or join a gym class.

The armed guard position, however, has an initial purpose beyond student relations.

School shootings: Data vs. perception

Seventeen people were killed and 17 injured in the Feb. 14 Parkland, Florida school shooting that led to a renewed emphasis on defending students.

Despite the publicity resulting from recent attacks, data show mass shootings are not a major threat for adolescents on school grounds.

A 2017 study by the National Vital Statistics Reports stated that the top causes of death in the U.S. in 2015 for those ages 15 to 19 years old were accidental deaths (38.5 percent) and intentional self-harm or suicide (20.2 percent). All homicides and assaults, which include gun-related deaths and mass shootings, account for 15.6 percent.

There are around 50 million children attending American public schools, the U.S. Department of Education told The Washington Post for a March 8 article, and about 200 students have been fatally shot while attending classes since 1966.

Chances are slim a student in the United States will die at the hands of a shooter on a school campus.

“(T)he statistical likelihood of any given public school student being killed by a gun, in school, on any given day since 1999 was roughly 1 in 614,000,000,” David Ropeik wrote in The Post.

Other activities, like traveling to and from school, injuries in athletics and catching a disease, pose far higher risks for students.

Since August 1966, The Washington Post reported there have been 154 mass shootings where four or more fatalities were confirmed. Of those, 21 were at schools. Those school shootings account for 214 of the 1,102 dead from the mass shootings. The average over 52 years is four deaths annually out of the 50 million who attend public schools each year.

Connecting with students

Though the chances of a school shooting occurring are low, the benefits students can reap through positive connections with an officer are high, Washington County Sheriff Jeffrey Murphy said.

“These officers will have the opportunity to interact in a positive way with kids that would be opposed to when their parents are being stopped with a ticket or a domestic incident,” Murphy said.

Murphy, since becoming sheriff in 2011, has been an advocate for improving the community’s relations with the county sheriff’s office. Here and there, the department will do little things to make connections, such as the time then-Sgt. Todd Lemery and Deputy CJ Davidsen were captured on their squad car’s dash cam playing basketball with a local teen.

Murphy has emblazoned the department’s slogan, “Community First,” onto the department’s patrol vehicles.

He hopes the positive interactions will carry over in a school setting.

“What we found out is kids make a bond with officers as a friend and as a mentor, and don’t see them in a way that comes from a negative incident,” he said.

Once the Parkland, Florida shooting details came out, Murphy sent a letter to school superintendents in Washington County asking what he could do. The county offers a retired officer plan that saves districts on benefits and cost, which cannot exceed $30,000. Seven school districts in the county have expressed interest during budget season in hiring a school resource officer.

The different approaches

Along with providing physical security, school districts are looking at helping students overcome mental health struggles that could lead to them harming themselves or others in the future.

Northern Rivers, an organization that includes Parsons Child & Family Center, has grown from the Capital District to the North Country. The group has assisted area school districts’ students by hosting mental health counselors. Locally, Queensbury, Hadley-Luzerne and Cambridge take part in the program, joining school districts like Schenectady and Ballston Spa.

The mental health service provides districts a no-charge offering that allows the patient’s insurance to cover the charge for the in-district counselor or social worker. Other charged models focus on putting a mental health professional on campus, which can cost $30,000 to $40,000, according to Northern Rivers Family of Services CEO Bill Gettman.

The service allows students to stay in school to receive mental health assistance, then return to their regular class schedule, he said.

Mental health education has become a priority in many school districts, and the state is now mandating it in schools. Gettman called mental health assistance the “key” to prevention.

The South Glens Falls school district is taking advantage of a Saratoga Center for the Family service that puts a full-time counselor in the district. New Superintendent Kristine Orr said 2017 was the first year the district worked with the mental health service.

“We were their second school they added on,” Orr said. “It has been nothing but positives. We are also creating a mental health task force this year to see what we offer for students right now and see what our next steps for best practices are.”

Orr stressed the importance of a child being both physically and mentally healthy.

When students begin the school year this fall, many will be greeted by school resource officers. Their mission is to be prepared for the worst-case scenario and to be an adult with open ears to students and teachers.

“It’s unfortunate the situation our kids are in today,” Hadley-Luzerne Superintendent Beecher Baker said. “I didn’t have to think about that when I was in school. I didn’t think about someone coming in to shoot me. It’s a level of security … to not only make the student a little more comfortable but the parents and the staff.”

Andrew David Kuczkowski is the education reporter. Andrew can be reached at 518-742-3354. Follow Andrew on Twitter: @ByKuczkowski.

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On – 28 Jul, 2018 By Andrew Kuczkowski