HARRISON, N.Y. – On the night Harrison’s 2013 town budget was approved, concerned parents said money is not an issue when it comes to the safety of their children.
“I would be willing to pay more in taxes for the safety of my children,” Lauren Robinson said in wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. “We’re willing to put our money where our mouth is. We’re asking for a short-term solution at the end of the day no matter how much it costs.”
Police officers stood guard at Harrison schools this week, and it is not known whether they will continue to be there after the holiday break. Harrison Police Chief Anthony Marraccini, who has five children in the school district, said it comes down to staffing.
“If we had the staff, we could absolutely move in the right direction, but there are still many hurdles that we need to discuss and get over,” said Marraccini. “Short-term solutions, sure, I could keep putting police officers in the spots that they’re at. Currently, we are basically at the schools from the time they unlock the doors to the time they lock the doors. It’s quite costly – all of those details are on overtime.”
Currently, the department has 61 police officers with a payroll of $5,923,695. The approved 2013 budget has money for 64 police officers.
Many parents suggested reviving the School Resource Officer program. Marraccini agreed but said it would take time to work out.
“I would like to do what I could to get these programs going, but I’m telling you from a realistic standpoint, if I had the staffing tomorrow, I still need to get the right people to our kids and they have to have the right training,” he said. “If I put people in there that aren’t the right fit, I may have a program that’s going to fail.”
Keeping children safe while they are at school is a top priority of the police department, Marraccini said.
“There’s a lot of things that have to be discussed,” Mayor Ron Belmont said. He and Marraccini have met with Harrison Central School District superintendent Lou Wool several times since the deadly shootings in Newtown, Conn.
Trustee Joseph Cannella echoed Belmont and other trustees when he swore that the board would do everything it could to make sure Harrison children are safe.
One woman told the board that she would have a problem sending her kid to school without a police officer present. When the kids return to school Jan. 2, some parents said they would be devastated if police officers were not there.
“These are our children,” said Pamela Strauss Peligri, who has a 4-year-old boy and another son in first grade. “There’s nothing more important in the community than investing in its children. There should be dollars spent in no other direction, but on the safety of our children."