A man walking into Elma Town Hall for Wednesday’s Town Board meeting stopped in his tracks to take a second look at a police vehicle parked outside.
“Since when does Elma have a police department?” the man asked as he studied the black vehicle with “Elma Police” emblazoned on the side.
His question was answered a short time later when the Town Board created a one-officer department immediately after hosting a public hearing on the subject.
Town residents shouldn’t expect to see an Elma police car roll up to many emergency calls. Supervisor Dennis Powers said the town will still rely on the Erie County Sheriff’s Department and New York State Police for most of its law enforcement needs.
Elma’s lone police officer, Joseph DePlato, will instead work full-time as a school resource officer out of Iroquois High School under an agreement reached between the town and school district.
Before DePlato could officially begin his duties, Erie County advised Elma officials that the town must have a police department before it can employ an officer.
“We needed to establish the police department before we can have a police officer placed in the schools as a SRO,” said Powers.
Elma created the department based on a 1983 opinion from the New York State comptroller that indicates a town can form a one-man police department under the supervision of the supervisor.
Powers said he may be DePlato’s supervisor in writing but that the agreement with the school district gives Iroquois Schools Superintendent Douglas Scofield plenty of authority.
“When he’s on school property, he has direct guidance from the superintendent,” said Powers.
DePlato is no stranger to the district; as a New York State trooper, he served as a resource officer at the high school until the district lost funding for the position. In recent years, Iroquois has had a part-time resource officer who split his time among three other school districts.
This year Iroquois secured financing to restore the full-time resource officer. Under the agreement, the district will pay DePlato’s salary as well as provide an office, phone and office supplies. Elma is furnishing the police vehicle, uniform and standard police equipment.
DePlato recently retired from the State Police after a 30-year career to take the Elma job.
Powers noted that DePlato has all of the powers of a regular police officer in the town, but he will request assistance from the sheriff’s department or State Police most of the time.
According to Powers, DePlato will do more than provide security at the school, noting he had a good rapport with Iroquois High School students during his last stint as a resource officer, serving as a father figure, confidant and counselor.
Building on that observation, Councilman Mike Nolan, a former Elma supervisor, said there will be instances when DePlato’s work will bring him into the community.
“Many times with kids, problems at school turn into problems at home,” Nolan said. “And often, knowing Trooper DePlato when I was supervisor, it was a dual role, being at the homes of children as well as being at the school.”