Stepping up security, the Liverpool Central School District now has armed guards patrolling its halls.

The resolution for the measure passed back in November, but this month is the first time the program is rolling out.

Having armed guards in the district is a first in its security protocol.

Only on 9, LCSD Director Michael McCarthy opened up about why the program is crucial to keeping kids safe.

McCarthy also adds how the program is cost-effective all while adding decades of law enforcement experience to the security team.

“It was great for the district because they were getting officers with 20 years of law enforcement experience,” McCarthy shared. “They’ve virtually seen just about everything there is to see, good and bad in our communities. Many of them are local residents. Many of them have students in our district so they have a vested interest in keeping everyone safe.”

Different from School Resource Officers — LCSD armed guards are retired police officers who bring over their own health benefits.

“When budget times get bad, we can keep our security levels at sufficient staffing without having to sacrifice the extra cost of incurring benefits for these guys,” McCarthy added.

The district can hire three to four guards for what it would cost to hire and train one SRO.

One of the district’s five new guards is Rick Helterline, a retired sergeant from the Syracuse Police Department. Helterline is now patrolling the same halls he once walked as a student. 

“We’ve got all this training, yearly specialized training and now we get to use it here,” said Helterline during his second week on the job. “In this day and age, we see the different things going on in the world and there’s more security needed at schools, especially schools. Our kids are the future. They’re our future leaders. They’re our future everything, so we have to provide a secure environement for them to learn and grow.”

Because guards like Helterline will be armed — McCarthy says they will maintain the same certification they would need if they were still active police officers.

“They’re carrying, and carrying concealed, so it’s not going to be overly traumatic to children,” McCarthy said. “They’re going to appear to be our normal security people. We want them to be a part of this school community.”

The team of guards and security staff rotate within all 14 school buildings — covering more ground and making more student interaction. 

Guards are not only patrolling the halls but also other crowded parts of schools such as the cafeteria during breakfast and lunch times.

Building trust with students will only strenghten relationships in the school community, according to McCarthy.

For Helterline, he’s protecting schools that have been important to his family for generations.

“It hits home for me,” Helterline shared. “This is a perfect opportunity. I do believe in security for schools. The kids can feel safe but also the parents at home, work, or whatever they’re doing, they know their kids are in a safe environment.”

Hearing about how guards and security staff are becoming part of each school is the best progress McCarthy hears about when his team reports back.

“Probably one of the best interactions I’ve heard about…one of my guys was telling me about how he got a number of high fives during the day from the kids,” McCarthy said. “The kids are excited, talking to him. They like the idea of someone being there just for that making sure they’re being safe.”

McCarthy tells NewsChannel 9 it’s possible the program will expand, making room to hire more retired police officers to protect its schools.