Starting Wednesday, Feb. 20, the Katonah-Lewisboro school district will again have a police officer patrolling its schools and building communication with students after a three-year absence.
Next week that role will be reprised by South Salem resident Andrew Llewellyn, who was hired last summer after Lewisboro Town Board member Peter DeLucia and state Sen. Greg Ball helped secure an $80,000 grant to fund the position.
The school resource officer (SRO) position has been vacant since 2009, when current Lewisboro Police Chief Frank Secret left the position to become chief.
“The SRO position is a very unique position,” Chief Secret said. “Most police officers’ job is to arrest someone who has done something wrong. Andrew’s job bucks that trend and says, ‘How do I keep a student from making a mistake and getting into trouble?’ That’s his whole job now.”
Mr. Llewellyn, a lifelong resident of Lewisboro and a John Jay High School graduate, has been involved in many aspects of the town, including serving as a volunteer firefighter, Highway Department employee, and now police officer, an attribute Chief Secret said was significant in Mr. Llewellyn’s hiring.
“I’ve always had an interest in joining the police force,” Mr. Llewellyn said.
Earning a degree in criminal justice from Western Connecticut State University and having completed his civil service exam five years prior to becoming the SRO, he has been preparing for a job on the local or state police for many years, he said.
“This is where I grew up, my wife grew up, where my kids are,” he said. “There is no place I’d rather be.”
The value of having a local resident with well-established connections to the community far outweighs what other police departments sometimes frown upon as an awkward relationship, having a resident officer patrolling his own community, Chief Secret said.
In particular, having local roots will benefit Mr. Llewellyn, as he already knows many officers and fire and medical personnel throughout town, as well as a good group of KLSD students through his work as South Salem Volunteer Fire Department chief over the past three years, he said.
Mr. Llewellyn is currently still with the Fire Department but will be stepping down from his position as chief in April.
He will remain a firefighter, though. Being both an officer and a fire chief will not detract from his duties at either post, he said.
Before graduating from the Westchester County Police Academy, he maintained his duties at the Highway Department and Fire Department simultaneously, and he said his duties as an officer will be his top priority.
Necessity or luxury
Over the last three years there has been a lot of comment in favor of bringing the SRO back, Chief Secret said. And after the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., Katonah-Lewisboro Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Kreutzer said, the district received significant and emotionally charged opinions on both sides of the issue, ranging from “Violence doesn’t remove violence; I don’t want an armed individual in the building” to “I’m not sending my kid to school until you have armed guards.”
But as of late, there has been a fair amount of discussion, particularly in light of the district’s fiscal condition, about whether the SRO is necessary.
In a letter to The Ledger last month, Katonah resident Catherine Wolf questioned whether the SRO was the best choice for the district, both in dealing with risky student behavior and for district security.
“His main duties will be to prevent and intervene in students’ risky behaviors — drug use, drinking, bullying, and similar behaviors,” she wrote. “But his main training is as a police officer. And he will carry a gun, which, in my opinion, is unnecessary for the job. Wouldn’t a psychologist or social worker whose main area of competence is the psychology of adolescence be more appropriate?”
She cited the ineffectiveness of armed officers in past school shootings, such as Columbine and Virginia Tech, and with the John Jay campus as large and energetic as it is, the officer’s time would be taken up with students, leaving little time to be stationed at an entrance, she wrote.
The value of an SRO is something Chief Secret had hoped the nine and a half years he spent in that capacity would have proven, he said.
The position fills a void between students and the typical supports they have — faculty, parents and administrators. The SRO is one of the few adults a student can approach about legal and personal issues who has a legal perspective and can give that type of advice.
But some residents and school board members remain unconvinced of the SRO’s usefulness.
At the Jan. 24 board meeting, board member Dr. Peter Treyz vehemently opposed the SRO as not only a possible waste of already scarce funds but as something fundamentally wrong.
“I’m sorry to say this,” Dr. Treyz said, “but student risk behavior is the family’s problem, not the SRO’s. This is where parents are supposed to be doing their due diligence. An SRO is icing on the cake.”
Dollars and cents
Funding was also on the mind of board member Stephanie Tobin at the Jan. 24 meeting, when she voiced concerns over the recurring cost of the SRO once the grant money with which the position was obtained runs out. The grant can be reapplied for on an annual basis, but it is not guaranteed after the first year.
Chief Secret is aware of the heavy opinion on both sides and admits the money will likely always be an issue. But with a deal struck between the town and district to split the $80,000 annual cost of the officer, he is optimistic about the longevity of the SRO position.
“We are here to help the schools how they want it done,” he said.
A typical day for Mr. Llewellyn will be a 7-3 shift covering the school district, but with the majority of his time and focus on the high school, Chief Secret said.
“Little kids, little problems, big kids, big problems,” he said.
Referencing his past, Chief Secret can remember a host of daily responsibilities and incidents, ranging from locker thefts and drug possession to in-class lectures and holiday safety presentations that will all be part of the SRO’s daily routine.
Mr. Llewellyn will also partially be at the district’s disposal for after-school events.
Dr. Kreutzer has emphasized a number of times that the SRO will be armed and will still have to respond to emergencies as a regular patrolman, but he may not always appear as one.
The focus of the job is being a comfortable and approachable resource for students, Mr. Llewellyn said. His appearance will be at his discretion outside the basic uniform, but Chief Secret does recall wearing khakis on casual Fridays. He credits himself as the impetus behind shorts as appropriate for those particularly hot summer school days.
“More than likely you won’t see me in shorts,” Mr. Llewellyn joked. “Really I hope to be a resource for students, faculty and parents.”
In addition to Mr. Llewellyn, the police force has also welcomed David Alfano as its newest patrolman. He graduated with Mr. Llewellyn from the Westchester County Police Academy on Dec. 14 and has been actively patrolling the district as Lewisboro’s third full-time officer in addition to Chief Secret and Mr. Llewellyn.