Vineland Considering Armed Officers at Schools, Other NJ Districts Already Have Them
As the New Jersey Legislature waits to see if Gov. Chris Christie will sign reworked legislation into law that would establish a new class of law enforcement officer to provide armed security in schools, some districts have already created their own paths to ensuring students and staff feel safe.
In Vineland, the ball is rolling on a plan to likely place a retired armed cop in each of the district's 17 schools, according to Dr. Joseph Rossi, executive director of personnel.
The district has posted a job opening for a "special law enforcement officer" to develop a security plan for the district that would kick in at the start of the 2017 school year. A current police officer and a retired police officer happen to serve as members of the school board, which created the position earlier this month.
The district currently uses unarmed personnel, Rossi said.
"We believe that Vineland police would be excellent in response, but it would take some time, obviously," Rossi told Townsquare Media. "We're trying to say that the armed personnel would cut back on that time immensely and be able to hopefully remove the threat or lessen the threat."
Rossi said the hiring of part-time officers for all schools would ideally strike a balance between a desire for safety and getting around an annual budget crunch.
In Washington Township in Gloucester County, armed officers are nothing new. There's been a local cop stationed inside the high school for at least 12 years, according to Superintendent Joseph Bollendorf.
"He also engages in positive policing with our students, so he'll go into the cafeteria. He's available to go into some of our classrooms from time to time," Bollendorf said.
In addition to the school resource officer at the high school, a retired police officer —also armed — travels to all 11 schools in the district on a daily basis.
No cop has ever had to remove their weapon from their holster during the school day, Bollendorf noted.
"The main thing is it's a source of comfort and security for our community, our staff and our students," he said. "God forbid...an incident arises where an intruder intends to do harm."
Marlboro launched armed officers in schools at the start of 2013.
Conditionally vetoed by Christie in September, both houses of the legislature revamped a bill that establishes class three special law enforcement officers to provide security in "public and nonpublic schools and county colleges." The officers would only have jurisdiction on school grounds.
Christie requested that the officers be required to undergo school resource officer training, and the new legislation grants that request. The latest draft was approved by the Senate on Oct. 20 and the Assembly on Nov. 21, and once again awaits the governor's signature.