Source: Press of Atlantic City
Author: Diane D’Amico, Staff Writer
Date: July 10, 2015
Putting a trained school security officer in every school, and requiring staff and students to wear visible identification cards, are among 42 recommendations of the New Jersey School Security Task Force, whose final report was released Thursday.
However, the report recommends that one of the most controversial issues – whether security officers should carry guns – should be decided by the school superintendent. It does recommend that the state develop standards to govern the licensing, experience and training of security staff.
The task force highlights 14 security issues that ranged from improving response times to emergencies, to scheduling periodic police patrols of schools and school grounds, installing panic alarms and security screening, and incorporating security into school building and grounds design. In many cases, the report acknowledges the costs involved, and leaves the final decisions to local school boards and officials.
The New Jersey School Boards Association issued its own security report in 2014, which recommended that a trained school resource officer be the preferred law enforcement presence in schools because of the specialized training they receive in multiple roles of also providing education and counseling.
Donald Webster Jr., the NJSBA’S president, served on the state’s school security task force. In a statement released Thursday, the NJSBA said they recognize the difficulty of funding the position and understand why schools might consider alternatives such as retired police officers. They support finding federal and state funds to subsidize the cost and working collaboratively with local law enforcement.
The task force report was developed after several public hearings, including one at Stockton University in January. At that hearing, several retired police officers who have worked in schools supported having properly trained security officers carry guns.
“An armed officer can stop a threat immediately,” Robert Stevens, a Galloway Township resident and former Bridgeton police officer, told the task force.
Dr. Paul Kosten, the school psychologist in Ventnor, suggested more coordination between law enforcement and schools to get troubled students the mental health services they need to help avert a crisis.
That suggestion was included in the report, with a recommendation that school districts establish behavioral threat assessment teams to identify potential at-risk students and to provide resources to prevent violent incidents.
The report builds on security recommendations that have been developed over the last 15 years since school shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999 and increased concerns about terrorism and even weather emergencies.
“New Jersey has always taken an active role in developing and implementing programs designed to protect our students,” said Commissioner of Education David C. Hespe, who co-chaired the 11-member task force with Christopher Rodriguez, Director of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.
“This task force worked hard to build upon this tradition of success,” Hespe said.
Rodriguez said protecting children is a 24-hour job that requires a strong working relationship among law enforcement, school officials, parents and the community. “This is consistent with the work of my office and vital to allowing New Jersey’s children, and their teachers, to focus on learning,” he said.