Budget cuts lead to removal of police from Syracuse schools

Supt. Contreras visits Corcoran High School Wednesday morning / photo: Jim Kenyon

Police officers are being pulled out of Syracuse city middle and elementary schools because of budgetary cutbacks one day before the new school year begins.

Richard Strong, president of the Syracuse City School Board, says the decision to take away officers from schools in the district is the result of a $500,000 cut to the security budget district-wide.

The discussions were conducted in April to make the cuts before Superintendent Sharon Contreras arrived. Nevertheless she could decide to reallocate resources depending on need.

Strong contends children will be safe in the middle and elementary schools. "We have teachers, we have administrators and other resource people in the buildings. Just because you don't have an armed or uniformed police officer doesn't mean schools aren't safe." Strong said.

News that there would not be resource officers in Syracuse City Middle Schools was upsetting for many parents and neighbors in Syracuse. Courtney Griffin said the officers did more than keep the schools safe. She said they were often a positive role model for students

"There's a lot of stuff that goes on so I think that's a bad idea," said Griffin.

Last June a middle school resource officer was praised by Chief Frank Fowler for helping arrest a man police say tried to lure a Bellevue Middle School student into his car. Now he and five other officers will be transferred from the working in the middle schools to community policing patrols. Many parents said that decision just doesn't make sense.

"Basically there's a violence thing in Syracuse. The kids will keep on fighting and they need that police escort to act right," said Amber Wood.

The police department said they didn't make the decision to remove the officers. The resource officers are funded by the City School District. Deputy Chief Joe Cecile said the district told police they could only afford officers for the city high schools.

School Superintendent Sharon Contreras took office after the School Board cut the security budget. She told CNY Central Wednesday, "If a middle or elementary school needs support, an officer will be available. Also we are going to make sure officers involved in Community Policing continue to support the schools and that is a commitment of Chief Frank Fowler."

The transferred officers will still keep tabs on the middle schools as community police officers but Cecile understands why parents are upset over the police presence in the middle schools being reduced.

"The officers that are reassigned will have additional duties. They'll be tied to 911, they're going to be taking calls, they're going to be handling quality of life calls in community policing division - so the schools are just going to be one of their duties," said Cecile.

Other officers will stay in the high schools.