At 7:45 a.m., Officer Tom Huffman’s day begins with greetings from smiling students, as he doles out countless “good mornings,” and fist bumps.
Huffman is a Special Patrol Officer (SPO) through the Chemung County Sheriff’s Office. The school resource officer (SRO) and SPO program began in the 1990s, but the 2018-2019 school year was the first time it’s been introduced to the elementary schools in the Elmira City School District.
Officer Huffman retired from the New York State Police in 2011, after working as an SRO from 2008-2010. He then served in Addison as an SRO, before coming to Chemung County.
Officer Huffman splits his time between Fassett and Beecher elementary schools. The school district and the Sheriff’s office plan to add four more patrol officers by the next school year, so that each school would have its own.
“When I’m not there, the kids ask where I am,” Huffman said. That’s not surprising, based on the way the students interact with Officer Tom, delighting in his daily fist bumps, hugs, and high-fives. One little girl even brought him a box of Dunkin munchkins, “so that he could have some breakfast,” she said.
These positive interactions with the children is Officer Huffman’s favorite part of the job. Although he says safety is the “number one job” of the SPOs, especially operating as a “deterrent,” for school shooters, the relationships he gets to build with the students are an added benefit.
““In the beginning of the year actually, at both schools I work at, I had several students say to me ‘i don’t like cops, i don’t talk to cops’ and you see how it is now, i haven’t heard that since September,” Huffman said. “It’s completely changed.”
Officer Huffman feels it’s important for the younger students, especially, to see the police as a positive presence, because they’re “so impressionable” at the elementary-school age.
“At times a lot of these kids have a negative image of the cops, and they don’t see is in this way, they don’t see us playing or saying hi in the hallway or in the cafeteria,” Huffman said. “And i think once they get older, that negative image is so ingrained in them.”