ARTICLE ON A WONDERFUL FRIEND OF MINE: SRO- TROOPER JOE DEPLATO, this gives a bit of insight into the world of SRO'S and their importance.
Bringing law ’n’ order to school
Bruce AndriatchUpdated: 03/18/08 8:19 AM
After spending 20 years with the State Police, Trooper Joseph De- Plato was ready for a change and a break. So when he heard that the Iroquois School District was in the market for a school resource officer — that’s bureaucratese for a police officer in the school — he submitted his name.
Five years later, he got the change he was hoping for. But not the break.
“The honest-to-God truth is I’ve never worked so hard in my life,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s heavy lifting, but it’s constant.”
Part cop, part teacher, part social worker, part traffic consultant, part community liaison, the school resource officer is becoming firmly entrenched in the educational culture. Schools thought they might need them post-Columbine, but now more want them for dozens of other reasons.
At the same time, political and financial realities could make it more difficult for schools to get officers in the buildings. In his final budget as governor, Eliot Spitzer proposed moving the State Police from the schools into high-crime areas. Although he won’t be around to make the case for that idea, it was already getting resistance.
State Sen. Dale Volker held a news conference last month to tout the success of school resource officers. Tellingly, he held it at Iroquois and was joined by school administrators and town officials.
During an hourlong interview in his office — interrupted by one thank-you from the principal, one phone call from the worried mother of a former student and one invitation for birthday cake — DePlato reiterated that he goes where his bosses assign him. But it also became clear that he believes that the work he has done in the last five years rivals what he had done for the previous 20.
“No day is the same here; it’s almost like [being on] patrol,” he said. “Where it differs is patrol is more reactive than proactive. We’re reacting to accidents; we’re reacting to complaints about burglaries; reports about suspicious people. In here, we hear about a problem, we work with the administration, call the kids in, involve the family, counselors, do whatever we have to do and try to cut if off before it happens.”
He hears about fights and mediates settlements by gently reminding the would-be combatants that he can arrest them. He hears about planned parties where alcohol will be served and alerts — in some cases, warns — the parents. He has taken kids out in handcuffs, acted on threats of violence and conducted locker searches with drug-sniffing dogs.
As need dictates, he takes students who might be on the cusp of making seriously bad decisions to Collins Correctional Facility to show them where they could end up.
He also goes to school dances, meets with former students who need help, hands out diplomas on graduation day and teaches classes when they pertain to police work. For a sociology class, he brought in a polygraph; for physics, an accident-reconstruction specialist.
When the district bought athletic fields across the street on Girdle Road, he noticed that the plans would have created a dangerous crossing, so he worked with the town and the county to get a traffic light installed.
“You actually see where your help goes,” DePlato said of his school assignment. “And it’s a nice feeling.”
After the news conference, the students had their say. The kids who know that DePlato can arrest them, who know he has ruined their parties, called their parents, scared them with a visit to prison, let him know what they thought of him: They collected 900 signatures on a petition opposing his reassignment.