With the start of the new school year in New Jersey only a few weeks away and the memory of the recent school shooting massacre in Uvalde, Texas, fresh in everyone’s minds, the issue of school security is front and center.

According to Patrick Kissane, the executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Resource Officers, even before the Texas tragedy that unfolded last May, schools across the Garden State were busy upgrading their security systems with panic alarms, video surveillance systems and better door and window locks.

But now there is now increased discussion about whether school guards should carry a gun.

How many schools have armed security?

Kissane said while statewide data is not kept on the total number of armed security guards working in New Jersey schools, “I would say that it’s probably close to, maybe 40% of schools, if I had to guess, actually employ some type of armed security in their schools.”

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He said while some communities do not want to have a person with a gun guarding students there is definitely a growing interest in putting armed personnel in Jersey schools.

School security options

“We’re seeing an increase in unarmed security as well as armed security, whether that’s a police officer working as a school resource officer, or possibly the Class 3 officer,” he said.

Class 3 officers are recently retired police officers with years of training and experience that still report to the local chief of police, but are less expensive to hire than active officers.

He noted school districts also have the option to hire other kinds of security officers whether they have specific police training or not.

Governor Murphy and leaders hold a press conference in response to mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on Wednesday, May 25, 2022(Edwin J. Torres/NJ Governor’s Office).
(Edwin J. Torres/NJ Governor’s Office)
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Will an armed guard make schools safer?

Kissane said it’s important for all school districts to listen to and respond to the wishes of their community.

“I think parents feel safer when they drop their kids off and they know that there’s somebody that’s been trained in tactics for responding to active shooting situations and that they’re in the building all day," he said.

He also noted if parents have any security concerns they should address them with the school administration.

New Jersey schools must coordinate emergency response plans with local law enforcement and conduct regular active school shooter, lock-down, evacuation and bomb threat drills.

He said districts are also required to “complete assessments on their building, vulnerability assessments to see if they have any areas of concern that need to be addressed.”

Look for signs of trouble

New Jersey has a new law that will soon require all schools to form behavioral threat assessment teams that will pay attention to language or acts that could indicate potential violence.

Kissane stressed that “prevention and communication is still the key.”

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