Concerned parents had plenty of questions for town officials Thursday as they pushed for more new security measures at Harrison schools in the wake of last week's horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Harrison Police have maintained a presence at local schools this week asparents dealt with dropping off kids for the first times after the shooting. But that offering has been paid for with police overtime and will likely end in the near future.
About two-dozen parents attended Thursday night's Harrison Town Board meeting to petition the board to find a way to increase police involvement in school safety. The budget discussion scheduled for Thursday night quickly became a lengthy debate on school safety - and the town's role in ensuring it.
Some parents said they would like to see police remain on-campus permanently, others asked what types of programs can be implemented immediately improve safety.
Helena Jaffe, a Harrison parent, said she wrote a public letter in 2007 supporting the return of the student resource officer (SRO) program, but that it hasn't happened yet.
“I am here to find out how we are going to get this back,” Jaffe said, to a round of applause.
Others suggested hiring a private security firm or asking retired officers to watch over schools while class is in session. Harrison Police Chief Anthony Marraccini said there are "a number of issues" with adding armed guards to the schools, but said he is hopeful to one day bring back a police program.
“Those are the types of programs that I believe really need to be rebuilt,” Marraccini said. “I think it's going to be very effective in preventing any type of issue that could happen at the school."
But building the programs up again, he said, will take time.
Residents also said they are concerned about a county pilot program approved as part of the 2013 budget that would house people accused of misdemeanors that are deemed not competant to stand trial at St. Vincent's Hospital on North Street.
St. Vincent's is less than a mile from several Harrison Schools, including Harrison Avenue School less than a quarter of a mile away.
The issue underscored an overall push by several residents for an increased police presence in the area.
Historically the Harrison Town Board has left the decisions for specific programs up the police chief. The SRO program was cut, Marraccini said, because staffing reductions left him with no other choice.
Parents didn't express concerns about town spending Thursday, some asked repeatedly for the cost of five new officers, saying the costs are a secondary concern.
“There are a lot of different things that need to be discussed," said Harrison Mayor/Supervisor Ron Belmont, who didn't offer any specific plans but said conversations continue between the town, school and police officials.
Councilman Steve Malfitano echoed that idea, adding that the board is very aware of the concern parents are feeling.
“I’m pretty confident that the people that are involved here have it in their heart and in their interests to come up with something that addresses the issue,” he said.
The board passed the 2013 budget later Thursday evening. The spending plan will add to police staffing for the second consecutive year and also adds civilian dispatchers to free more officers for other responsibilities. Those additions were already in the works before Thursday's meeting.
Marraccini didn't address how the additional staff will affect the schools, but said he has been in talks with Superintendent Louis Wool and that police and school officials will continue to work together to find solutions.
“We can’t go into it half-hearted,” Marraccini said. “It needs to be a global solution.”