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Press coverage

Below is listed press coverage of the conference for your reference.

The Saratogian


Saratoga County to host first-ever C-PASS School Safety Training Conference

The Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office and the New York State Sheriffs’ Association Committee on Policing and Safeguarding Schools (C-PASS) recently announced the first-ever C-PASS School Safety Training Conference.

This three-day event is scheduled for Feb. 21-23 at the Saratoga Casino Hotel and has drawn more than 120 law enforcement and educational leaders from across the state.

The conference will focus on training for School Resource Officers as well as school personnel through presentations and training exercises that examine and analyze past school incidents; Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training; mental health education; bullying in schools; social media trends; understanding unique needs and topics relative to the LGBTQIA community and students with disabilities; and officer wellness.

The conference will feature nationally recognized speakers from across the country. The following individuals will be presenting: Romano will tell his story, explain where he was mentally and what drove him to think he had no other option. His presentation will focus on mental health education in an effort to stop incidents similar to this from happening again.

Posey tells her story of no one being prepared for what happened inside Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012. She shares what went wrong and right on that day and the days and years to follow. She shares her perspective on the events and how a community can be proactive and be prepared for the unthinkable. Posey gives real solutions on school safety, reunification, and recovery in the aftermath.

The tragedy at Columbine redefined the nation. DeAngelis tells his story from the events through the aftermath. This presentation reveals the leadership lessons he learned in the focus of an international firestorm. Frank’s honest, straightforward account provides invaluable insights into managing the after-crisis with students, staff members, community members, and never-ending media attention.

Forward is retired from the Saratoga Springs Police Department and is currently the assistant police chief for the Santa Fe Independent School District. He and fellow Officer John Barnes were the only officers on campus on May 18, 2018, when a school shooting occurred at Santa Fe High School. There were 10 people fatally shot and 13 others were wounded. Forward will take everyone through that day, the things that were done and not done, and lessons learned.

Curnutt is one of the founding members of the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Program and works for Texas State University as the Assistant Director for ALERRT. From the initial calls coming into a surgical intervention to save the critically wounded, each response link in the chain of survival requires time to perform essential tasks. The goal is to shorten that timeline as much as possible. This presentation will discuss the analysis of more than 400 active attack events to provide perspective on how to engage in calculated risk-taking and decision- making. Cooper Jr. is the Director of the Community Outreach and Youth Services Unit for the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department. He is a certified Active Shooter Instructor who has trained more than 20,000 people throughout New York State. This presentation will focus on the importance of performing lockdown drills, safe evacuation drills, and districtwide training as well as establishing and maintaining a close partnership with school administrators to provide for a safe school environment.

Duca is the Principal at Ballston Spa High School where he also serves as a Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) Coordinator. Sisk is an Assistant Principal at Ballston Spa High School and a DASA Coordinator. This presentation will provide attendees with an overview of the Dignity for All Students Act, including its origination and history, how the act has been updated in response to societal changes, the processes and procedures implemented by Ballston Spa High School in addressing all reports of bullying/ harassment, case studies, and how school districts and law enforcement can work together to provide a safe and welcoming learning environment for all students.

NYPD Supervisor of School Safety, House, will take the SRO through the journey of navigating LGBTQIA topics in a school setting.

Aini is a New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services (NYDCJS) Certified Police Instructor as well as a C-PASS instructor. This presentation will touch on key topics when dealing with students that have special needs.

Deputy Cicardi is with the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office, assigned as the SRO to the Burt Hills-Ballston Lake School District. He will provide an overview of the Employee Assistance Program: how it works, what’s available to help you, your coworkers, and your family. He will also touch on Officer Wellness, mental health, and ways to cope with the stress of the job.

Additional breakout sessions led by federal and local law enforcement staff will focus on social media and digital communication trends popular among students; drug awareness; and National Threat Assessment Center (NTASC) assets for SROs and local law enforcement agencies and analysis of recent active school shooter cases.

Conference Sponsors include: Day Automation, Marist College, CERA Software, Inc., Rapid Responder, National Child Safety Council, Guest Communication Corp., LINSTAR, Flock Safety, Buffalo Armory, LLC, Mobiletech Communications Corp., Blauer.

C-PASS understands that protecting students is an ever-changing task and one of the utmost importance. The committee constantly strives to identify new issues and develop training to meet those needs faced not only by school resources officers but all those involved in the school community. Since the committee is not bound by a single state agency, or under any state mandate, C-PASS can be flexible and swift in tackling new school issues.

For more information about CPASS and the first annual School Safety Conference, visit www.cpass. org. For more information about the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office, please visit www.saratogacountysheriff. org.

The Gazette Part of the solution’ 18 years later Convicted school shooter speaks at officers’ conference

A now bearded and 34-year-old Jon Romano looked into scores of law enforcement officers’ faces Tuesday as he explained why he brought a 12-gauge shotgun to school in 2004, intent on killing people.At times fighting back tears, during the emotional hourlong talk, the ex-convict told the officers he wanted to be “part of the solution” 18 years later. Romano revisiting his attempted murder conviction as a former student at Columbia High School in East Greenbush was a segment of the three-day Committee on Policing and Safeguarding Schools’ inaugural School Safety Training Conference. The educational and networking event being held at the Saratoga Casino Hotel on Jefferson Street began Monday and ends today. The first-of-its-kind conversation with Romano, titled “Anatomy of A Lockdown,” was facilitated by the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department’s Acting Director of Community Outreach, Kenneth Cooper Jr. As they asked question after question, officers thanked Romano for sharing his story. Cooper stood near the speaker, helping Romano open up to the captive audience. Cooper tried to get Romano to speak in depth about the moments before the shooting, but Romano said he was more comfortable speaking about his advocacy for mental health education for youth. Romano, who was 16 when he committed his crime, was released from the Auburn State Correctional Facility in December 2020, after more than 15 years. During the shooting, Romano had been subdued by the school’s then-assistant principal, John Sawchuk. But a special education teacher, Michael Bennett, was shot in the right leg when the gun went off. Romano told the audience he had been in pain for a long time prior to the shooting. He explained that he was just 4 when his father left the family, and he said he was sexually abused when he was 5 and 6. That difficult upbringing caused Romano to become more withdrawn, insecure and awkward, he told the audience. ‘You won’t be able to stop every tragedy ... But you can make a difference. Whatever your position is, whatever your role is. The best way to do it is to engage and to do so with an open heart.’ “I had friends — but I always felt different,” he said. “I always felt alone, even when I was in a room full of people who cared about me.” Romano said he sought therapy but held back during sessions. The speaker said he wasn’t blaming his actions on mental health, and he acknowledged that most people who suffer from mental health concerns don’t harm others. In fact, they’re more likely to become victims themselves, he said. But mental health education is a key factor to discuss and explore that would allow youth access to environments, opportunities and tools in which they would be able to explore their emotions, thoughts and feelings — rather than let them build up and become toxic, leading to lashing out at others, Romano said. Romano said he would tell his 16-year-old self — and others who are struggling — to be open to being honest and vulnerable with people with whom you are closest and who can help. Romano, who now counsels youth (he wouldn’t say in what capacity, but said it’s outside of a school environment), said that he spoke to a young man earlier this week who told him he was having families issues. The individual is starting to act out by smoking and is considering drinking alcohol. Romano said he told him that those vices won’t take away his pain. “You’ll continue running from your demons,” he said. “You’ll continue running the rest of your life. Sooner or later, you have to face these things.” Romano said the country now has an opportunity to address mental health in a more meaningful way, particularly with the added stress-ors associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. When Cooper asked Romano to put himself back into the bathroom just before the shooting, Romano instead shared that he’s aware of the pain he caused students, staff and the entire school community. “I realize that my actions are still ongoing today and how it hurts people every time there’s another shooting,” he said. “So many people think of me and what I did that day. So many of my victims are still reliving what I did.” To that end, Romano said he also recognizes his 2020 release — while a “glorious day” for him and his family — caused pain for others. An SRO in attendance asked Romano if the school’s resource officer, counselor or anyone else could have helped him in the days leading up to the shooting. Romano said that he hadn’t made up his mind — “it was not set in stone,” he said. “And that’s why I encourage all of you who are teachers, who are working with us in any shape, that you can prevent so much. You can help out in so many ways. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to help everybody. You won’t be able to stop every tragedy... But you can make a difference. Whatever your position is, whatever your role is. The best way to do it is to engage and to do so with an open heart.” Another officer asked about his access to the weapon, to which Romano said “firearms are very easily accessible in America.” He said his family went about getting the shotgun “100% the legal right way.” It was also locked away, but Romano said he knew where the key was. Romano also noted that his mother had asked his psychologist if it was safe for the family to have a gun in the house, given Romano was in therapy. Romano said the psychologist gave clearance in part because he hadn’t opened up “all the way” during session. He said he led people to believe he was “doing a lot better” regarding his mental state. Cooper of the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department thanked Romano for speaking to the officers. Cooper said he thought it was a great idea to sit with Romano and find out where he was during his bad time as a teen. Cooper said he thought Romano’s story could help other SROs prevent another student from doing this. Leading up to the talk, Cooper said he wasn’t sure what to expect and was nervous for Romano. Romano said facing the officers was “overwhelming — but in a good way.” Romano said he had been wanting to do something like this for years, and he said he’s open to more speaking engagement to spread the message of early detection of mental health concerns.

The Gazette

Deputy discusses importance of mental health School resource officer shares his PTSD story during conference

Saratoga County Sheriff’s Deputy Zach Cicardi told a roomful of cops he hadn’t considered he might carry trauma from the job — until a year or two after he’d responded to a deadly plane crash.Cicardi said he was eating ice cream at a car show near an airport with his wife and kids when he saw the shadow of a similar type of plane, a Cessna, landing nearby. Then unbeknownst to Cicardi, he had post-traumatic stress disorder from responding to the 2014 plane wreck in Northumberland that left two people dead. Now in his fourth year as Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake’s school resource officer, Cicardi told the cautionary tale during the three-day Committee on Policing and Safeguarding Schools’ inaugural School Safety Training Conference at the Saratoga Casino Hotel on Jefferson Street. It ended Wednesday. Cicardi spoke about the importance of officers maintaining their mental well-being, because problems can crop up immediately, or in his case, years later. Billed in conference literature as having “a passion like no other for helping his brothers and sisters in blue,” Cicardi also touched on mental health and positive ways to cope with job stress. The deputy said everybody responds to traumatic experiences in their own unique ways. For instance, an officer who’s also a parent might envision his own child when responding to a child abuse call, while an officer who’s not a parent might not personalize it as much. Events involving children can “forever haunt” an officer, Cicardi said. “You always remember the names, their faces,” he said. “To the day you die, you can go back and relive those events.” Personally threatening incidents such as “being in a physical altercation with somebody twice your size,” along with more routine job stressors that can weigh on families such as working midnight or swing shifts and holidays, or missing a kid’s birthday or Christmas can take a toll, Cicardi said. Those experiences might manifest in an officer being angry or suffering insomnia, anxiety, nightmares, or a loss of appetite. “I’d be willing to bet, just looking out here, there’s a large percentage of those who have PTSD” that is either diagnosed or undiagnosed, he told the assembled officers. “The years and years of cumulative stress add up,” Cicardi said. “We can fix ourselves. But we are broken.” The panic attack from the imagined plane crash made him feel like he was going to die, he said. Moreover, the deputy said he doesn’t like to drive on Middle Grove Road in Greenfield because it makes him revisit a fatal crash to which he was the first to respond. PTSD that’s left untreated can result in problems for years, said Cicardi, who admitted that, despite his seemingly “perfect life” with a longtime wife and two beautiful daughters, and not having to worry about money, he’s had suicidal thoughts tied to being tired. “When you’re exhausted to your core, the thought of like eternal rest doesn’t sound so bad,” he said, even describing the beautiful spot in the woods he had picked as the setting. But Cicardi said he got help, and he spoke of the importance of positive coping strategies for officers. He said he shelters his wife from all the gory details of the emergencies to which he’s responded. But in the same way that officers get annual physicals, he said it’s important to find somebody on which to “unload” those experiences at least once a year. Likewise, officers shouldn’t be afraid to call their employee assistance program. The confidential, peer counseling for mental health and substance abuse issues from “tried and true professionals” can be a huge thing for officers because, if the counselor isn’t understanding, it can be hard to get the officer to open up. “If they talk to someone who doesn’t understand police, you’ll forever gonna lose that cop,” he said. Pacing up and down the aisle, Cicardi walked attendees through the program and how its peer-led counseling is supposed to work for officers, their families and coworkers. EAPs make sure the counseling is provided by people who officers know personally, have their interests in mind, and are “true blue” and can be trusted, he said. It’s important for officers to receive counseling from peers because a social worker who doesn’t understand police might refer a depressed officer to the state, which could lead to the possible seizure of his or her firearm. That overreaction might make the officer’s depression even worse, Cicardi suggested. “You try to actually get some help for yourself and then find out, ‘By the way, we’re taking your firearms, you can’t really have a job anymore,’ because you went for help,” he said. While most cops tend to hang out together early in their careers, Cicardi said he found it helpful to have a social life outside of law enforcement. He urged officers to find pastimes such as volunteering, coaching, along with taking up hobbies and attending church. This is a way to stay grounded and see the world how others view it, and not from an officer’s sometimes jaded perspective. He also encouraged the officers to decrease their consumption of alcohol.

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