County sheriff’s department promotes message to prevent violence

Every student has the ability to prevent an act of violence.

That was the message Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon and members of his office brought Tuesday to junior high school students in Mattituck, where they implemented the “See Something, Say Something” program, affiliated with the not-for-profit organization Sandy Hook Promise.

That organization aims to prevent gun-related deaths resulting from crime, suicide and accidental discharge so no parent experiences the loss of a child, according to its website. In 7 out of 10 incidents of gun violence, according to Sandy Hook Promise, friends were told that an act of violence would be committed or might take place.

By noticing warning signs on social media and in person, students can recognize a potential threat, correction officer Christopher Delaney said.

“We all know the problem, and none of us wants to address it,” he said. “That’s what this program does. It helps address these issues that you’re going through.”

Mr. Delaney and deputy sheriff Brandon Lloyd taught students three steps to help protect the school from danger: know the warning signs, act immediately and say something to a trusted adult, Officer Delaney said.

Before the presentation, Mattituck-Cutchogue school board member Brian Mealy recognized his father, Otha, who was one of Suffolk County’s first African-American correction officers and worked with the sheriff’s office for over 25 years. His father, he said, helped to break the color barriers that were present throughout the department.

Mr. Mealy also recognized previous school board member Jeffrey Smith, who served as a correction officer.

“By their fine examples, I know what it is to engage in honest, hard work and to support and protect one’s family and community,” he said. “In that same vein … Sheriff Toulon is doing his part to support and protect our county.”

Since taking office in January 2018, Sheriff Toulon said, he has visited one or two schools per week to promote Sandy Hook Promise and discuss common teen issues like vaping, bullying and drug abuse.

“If you hear something or see something, it’s extremely important that you find a trusted adult that you can go to and talk to about the problems,” the sheriff told the audience of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. “If you see someone is going to go into a environment and cause chaos — not necessarily life-threatening — but it could be something that really, you know, in your heart, that it shouldn’t happen.”

Founded over 300 years ago, the sheriff’s office is one of the oldest law-enforcement organizations in the county. The sheriff, who is elected to a four-year term, is Suffolk County’s highest-ranking law enforcement official.

Mattituck-Cutchogue Superintendent Jill Gierasch said the “See Something, Say Something” program promotes a positive message in the school system. There’s no limit on what the district can do to provide students with a voice in keeping the schools safe, she said.

“We can put security guards on staff, spend money on equipment, but really it’s our teachers, parents and administrators that will empower children to speak up,” Ms. Gierasch said.

Photo caption: Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon speaks with Mattituck Junior High School students Tuesday at an in-school assembly. (Credit: Kate Nalepinski)

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