New Jersey schools interested in bringing on an armed officer for the start of the next academic year have, ideally, started the process of finding an individual, or more than one, for the job.

But the pool of qualified applicants took a dip on July 1, at least for districts interested in hiring a Class III officer — a retired cop who's typically paid hourly and does not receive health and retirement benefits for the position — rather than a full-time cop that can cost in excess of $100,000 per year.

When the position was created in 2016 as an affordable option for schools looking to increase safety, it could by filled only by a cop who had left their job no longer than five years ago, among other requirements. But language in the law noted the permitted break in service would drop from five years to three at the start of this month.

The demand for these Class III officers has risen, according to Patrick Kissane, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Resource Officers. In 2018 alone, the association has seen more than 100 retired officers register for the mandatory training course associated with filling the Class III role.

"I anticipate that we're definitely going to see a massive increase in Class III officers in New Jersey schools," Kissane said. "I think that eventually you'll have at least one in every school district."

To become a Class III officer, one must pass a psychological exam and medical exam, along with an updated background check. The officer is still under the command of the local police chief.

Once appointed, the officer must complete training within 12 months to be certified as a school resource officer — they're not only on site to prevent or mitigate a school shooting, but to build a relationship with students and intervene, when appropriate, in cases of bullying, substance abuse and other issues.

Kissane said he has not encountered any schools that are struggling to find Class III officers. However, with a smaller pool of retirees to choose from, that could change — especially in towns where there's not much turnover within the police department.

"Some departments are small and some departments don't see retirements of three to five or seven years anyway," Kissane said.

Schools are not forced to look at only their local police department for Class III assistance.

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