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September 13, 2013

Officer returns to Unadilla Valley

After a few years’ break, returning Unadilla Valley Central School students were greeted on the first day of classes by a school-resource officer.

Unadilla Valley Superintendent Robert Mackey said the school lost its resource officer when the state police ended the program several years ago. Michael S. Hilla, who retired following a 30-year career with the Endicott Police Department, will be at the school every day.

While he is a member of the New Berlin Police force, his $32,000 salary will be paid for by the school. Mackey said voters approved the expenditure last year.

The last nine years of Hilla’s service at the previous police department was as the school resource officer at Union-Endicott Central School. “I like working with young people,” he said. “They keep me on my toes and keep me grounded.”

His presence is not an indication of problems at the school, Mackey said. Instead he will play a multifaceted role. Hilla’s main responsibilities are to educate students by partnering with counselors and teachers to prevent at-risk behavior. Mackey said he looks forward to the outreach that results in a comfort level and trust between the kids and authority figures.

Hilla will also provide classroom education on such areas as drug and alcohol and anger management issues.

If needed, Hilla can issue appearance tickets or make arrests, Mackey said, but his presence is expected to keep such possible issues from happening by having candid discussions with students who need it.

In this era of increased outside threats to student safety, he is “someone who can communicate immediately with police and has a sidearm at all times,” Mackey said.

Unlike most other duties he has performed in the police department, as school resource officer, “I can see the results of my work,” Hilla said. As he did at his previous school, “I hope to gain their respect and influence kids.” Besides serving as a deterrent, he said, he’s looking to serve as a role model and mentor.

“I have counseled young people,” he said, “and got them on the right path.”

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