Some Feel More Unsafe With Kingston Police In Schools, Changes Considered

Twenty-three recommended changes to the Kingston City School District’s School Resource Officer (SRO) program were presented to the Board of Education last week in response to community input. The program allows for a police officer to be stationed in the district’s middle schools and two at Kingston High School.

“Through our community forums, letters and emails from the community members, the Board learned that a whole segment of our community has suffered personal or family member trauma due to past negative interactions with law enforcement, in particular, our communities of color,” said School Board Vice-President Steven Spicer. “So they are wary about being in contact with any police, and their children may be afraid of any contact with police. This impacts the SRO program because it puts them and their children in increased, possibly daily contact with a figure that might make them feel afraid and not safe.”

The report was presented during a School Board meeting held on Wednesday, November 3, and its recommendations are currently being negotiated by Superintendent Paul Padalino with the City of Kingston and Town of Ulster police departments for their 2022-23 SRO contracts with the district. Among those suggested changes are disallowing the SRO to discipline students; formalizing the complaint process; adding further detail to daily activity logs; and training in implicit bias, crisis intervention, cultural diversity, community engagement, and restorative justice practices.

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If adopted, Spicer said, one of the changes at the middle school level would be that the SRO would no longer wear a standard police uniform, and would move to a “more relaxed and approachable look of regular uniform trousers, comfortable shoes, and a golf shirt with law enforcement insignia on the upper breast.”

The SRO’s sidearm would be hidden in the new middle school look; at Kingston High School the police uniform would remain unchanged.

The recommended changes were discussed during monthly committee meetings from June 2020 through October 2021 and were culled from a pair of public forums held at the high school, community e-mails, and a comment form hosted on the district’s official website. A statement from the Board of Education was also read into the record of the City of Kingston’s Re-Envision Public Safety Taskforce.

The role of the SRO in Kingston schools has been debated in and outside the committee over the past few years, with a petition started on MoveOn by Rise Up Kingston calling for the immediate removal of school resource officers from the district reaching 1,824 signatures, and a petition advocating for keeping the SRO started by KAFE (Kingston Action For Education) on change.org reaching 1,414.

Spicer said the issue was complex, and that while changes in the SRO program were recommended, that wasn’t meant to indicate it hasn’t been a largely successful program since it began in 2004.

“The SRO program is an integral part of the school safety planning and threat assessment,” Spicer said. “The SRO program removes and also prevents campus intruders. The SRO program provides additional security for extracurricular activities. The SRO program provides daily traffic control support. The SRO program can expedite response to threat events like missing children, social media threats, drugs, or weapons on campus. And the SRO program can work to create positive, supportive relationships between law enforcement officers and our children.”

But, Spicer added, the committee found that it was time to adapt the program.

“In short, it is…a part of the mission of the SRO program to understand that some of our children and their parents do not feel safer in the presence of a police officer,” Spicer said. “To address these concerns we have added changes to the mission and duties of the SRO program to recognize and deal with this. We have decided the SRO is not a police or policing program in our schools, but another part of our commitment to maintaining the health and safety of all children, which must meld itself, wholly and peacefully into our existing school community culture in order to be effective.”

The district’s annual 2019-20 SRO contracts paid $369,369 to the City of Kingston and $69,369 to the Town of Ulster. Kingston’s police department provides two officers for Kingston High School and one for J. Watson Bailey Middle School, while Ulster’s police department provides one officer for M. Clifford Miller Middle School.

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