By Dave Ongie
When Johnson City Police Chief Mark Sirois showed up at Monday’s school board meeting, he did so to honor a couple of the officers on his force who serve as resource officers in the Johnson City School System.
“We’re really excited about it, because he’s here to do what he does, which is to honor people who work for him,” said Dr. Greg Wallace, supervisor of safety and mental health for the Johnson City School System.
But before Sirois knew it, the tables were being turned on him. The school board and school system honored Sirois, who is set to retire next week, for going to great lengths to make schools in Johnson City safer during his time on the police force.
“When I started, we had a total of four officers in our school system,” Wallace said. “We had one at Indian Trail, one at Liberty Bell, one at Science Hill and one at the alternative center. We currently have 10 certified police officers in the school system, and he’s a big reason for that.”
Sirois has been on the police force since the end of 1991, and he rose through the ranks before becoming the Police Chief in 2012. When the city received nearly $6 million in federal funding in 2008 to help shore up security in the city’s schools, Wallace and Sirois began what became a very close working relationship.
“There was never a single time where we discussed needs for resources that he ever said no,” Wallace said. “Sometimes it wasn’t so much a specific need, but just a sense of security.”
In the days following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, for example, Sirois made sure he had extra officers stationed at the city’s schools.
“There was not a threat to our schools, but it was such a crisis nationally that he just knew there were a lot of people on edge, so he allowed for extra officers to be in parking lots of the schools just to give people that extra sense of ease,” Wallace recalled.
After the federal money that funded the HEROS grant went away in 2013, Wallace said the school system and the JCPD worked together to ensure the level of security in the city’s schools didn’t fall off. While the school system made some adjustments to its budget, Wallace said the police department absorbed the cost of the officers stationed in the schools and made sure the officers assigned to work in the system were highly skilled.
“We wouldn’t have been able to do it at that level, certainly, without their support,” Wallace said. “The officers that we have, they’re top-notch. We have a person that has been a member of the SWAT team, a member of the K-9 unit, part of the bomb squad. All of them, I think, have had some crisis mental health training. We’ve got a hostage negotiator on the team.”
As Sirois prepares to enter retirement, Wallace acknowledged that whoever follows the Chief will have a big set of shoes to fill. But he also believes Sirois has created a solid culture that will ultimately be seen as his legacy.
“I always heard that one way to tell a good leader is how much the company or organization he runs or oversees maintains that legacy after he leaves, because that shows he really permeated the culture,” Wallace said. “I have no doubt that’s going to be something that we see with the police department. I think his legacy will live long past his tenure there as the Chief of Police.”