1,000 Cops Have Been Trained to Guard NJ Schools
More than a thousand police officers, retired and current, have been trained over the past several years to become a daily armed guard in a New Jersey school.
The job entails more than just providing protection and a sense of security for students and staff. These trained guards, also known as school resource officers, serve as role models and provide law-related education on issues such as drugs, alcohol, driving and bullying.
They're one of the several tactics utilized in New Jersey to keep our kids safe from the first to last bell each day — a concern atop many parents' minds following the Valentine's Day school massacre that claimed the lives of 17 people in Parkland, Florida.
The Garden State continues to lead the nation in the practice of unannounced school shooter drills, according to the New Jersey Department of Education.
Since July 2014, more than 800 of these drills have been observed in New Jersey schools.
"What parents need to recognize is that New Jersey has very strong, comprehensive school security measures in place," said Frank Belluscio, deputy executive director of the New Jersey School Boards Association.
After 26 kids and adults were killed by a lone gunman in a Newtown, Conn. elementary school in 2012, many districts in New Jersey made it a priority to secure funding in order to redesign entryways as so-called "man traps," Belluscio said.
"It creates a double-entry process for anybody who wants to enter the school building," he explained.
Belluscio said the association has advised school boards to go over their security procedures and policies on an ongoing basis.
"Every school must have an emergency plan," he said. "The emergency plans have to be individualized for every school. Every school building has a different layout."
The association, nor DOE, keep statistics on the number of districts with metal detectors or armed guards on hand.
One day after the Florida rampage, the East Brunswick Board of Education voted to introduce armed police officers into all district schools. Parents of students in Nutley have asked their district officials to to do the same.
While districts can choose to hire a retired cop on their own to handle security, active cops with specialized training, known as special resource officers, are the more preferred choice.
And a law signed in 2016 added to the SRO pool, allowing retired cops — with the proper training — to walk the halls, armed, as "class III officers." Despite their retirement status, they must answer to the local police chief and follow the rules and regulations of state law enforcement.
"The class III law was passed as an affordable, smart option for placing a police officer in a school, rather than an armed guard," said Patrick Kissane, founder of the New Jersey Association of School Resource Officers, and deputy chief of police in Fort Lee.
The association, Kissane said, has trained about 1,200 police officers and educators over the past eight years.