Local Police Prepared for School Shooter Scenario

Barnegat Police Chief Records Assurance on Social Media
Feb 21, 2018

The Valentine’s Day slaying of 17 students and staff at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School by a former student there is the latest mass shooting to take place at schools since the Columbine tragedy nearly two decades ago. Should an active shooter incident occur here, local police say they are prepared to handle the situation.

“I don’t want to say it can’t happen here, but if it does, we believe we’re prepared to handle it,” Stafford Township Police Lt. James Vaughn said Monday, adding the township police force has trained annually for an active shooter scenario with Southern Regional officials and students for the last few years. “We are not waiting for anybody. Our main objective is to stop the shooter.”

Southern Regional students included in the drill have learned to evacuate under extraordinary circumstances, he said. Some have also played wounded or otherwise impeded victims. Township police, who serve and protect both the regional high school district and the elementary district on the opposite side of town, have also worked with Stafford Township School District personnel.

“We do have an emergency response plan in place,” Vaughn noted. “We would have a significant police response.”

In Barnegat Township, all the schools were equipped with a “panic button” shortly after the Sandy Hook, Connecticut school shooting in December 2012. The device allows a staff member to signal an alarm, which goes to all officers who are on the road.

“Every officer is instantly alerted so we can immediately prioritize our response,” said Police Chief Keith Germain, who discussed this among other school safety issues in a video posted in the aftermath of the Florida school tragedy last week on the police department’s Facebook page. He said this measure enables schools to bypass 911. “Even in the best-case scenario, through traditional dispatch and 911, if it took a minute, 90 seconds or two minutes, we are cutting that time out because the schools can contact us and notify us that there is an emergency, directly and instantaneously. That’s a huge benefit.”

Germain said he posted the video due to numerous questions and concerns residents have been raising about safety in Barnegat schools in light of the school shooting in Florida. He said a police officer regularly patrols the high school and officers also stop by the other school buildings at various times during the day.

“It provides constant communication with principals and staff, ability to build relationships with the student population and gives officers familiarity with the layout of the schools,” he said. “We will continue to take a proactive approach to school safety.”

Like many local police departments, Germain said following a major incident like the one that occurred last week, his department will look to see what lessons learned can be applied to further protect Barnegat students.

“We look to identify things we can apply,” he said, “whether it’s additional steps, solutions or equipment.”

Karen Wood, Barnegat superintendent, said the schools and the police department have a long history of collaboration.

“The police department regularly assesses our security practices,” she said, noting the school administration not only conducts regular drills, but also reviews security protocols to see if there is room for improvement. “The district recognizes that security is paramount and we can always improve on our practices. The police department does regular walk-through visits and patrols schools all the time – not just in times of heightened security.”

The same is true on the Southern Regional campus, where a Stafford Township school resource officer (SRO) is stationed at the 11/12 building but moves through the 9/10 building and the middle school campus regularly, Vaughn said. In addition to that officer, other Stafford police officers routinely patrol the Southern Regional schools, and the county resource building on the main campus, to familiarize them with the layout, he said.

 Little Egg Harbor Police,
Pinelands Regional on Alert

Shortly after the tragic shooting rampage, the Little Egg Harbor Township Police Department released this statement on its Facebook page: “In light of the tragic events in Florida yesterday, we would like to assure the public of the Little Egg Harbor Police Department’s commitment to taking proactive measures to protect the safety of the students and staff members of our school districts. We continuously work hard with the administrations of both the Little Egg Harbor and Pinelands Regional school districts to identify and correct physical security issues. We also work with them to identify those with potentially problematic behaviors and ensure those individuals receive the services they require. We currently maintain an armed, uniformed presence in every school, and have had officers in our schools for almost two decades. Our patrol officers in addition are trained to respond to active shooters and receive familiarization of the school facilities. Our regional partners like Ocean County SWAT, the Ocean County Sheriff’s and Prosecutor’s Office, and New Jersey State Police have also received familiarization with our facilities. No amount of countermeasures can assure total security and protect against every threat, but rest assured, we believe our schools are among the safest in the Nation.”

Cheryl Stevenson, acting superintendent and executive director of curriculum and instruction at Pinelands Regional School District, released this statement of readiness: “Little Egg Harbor Police Officers (School Resource Officers) are assigned to the Junior and Senior High School and marked police vehicles are visible, plus the LEH Police Department has access to live-stream video of our schools.

“We coordinate and maintain an excellent working relationship with our local Police Department. We review our security plans in coordination with our School Resource Officers, and we have conducted drills with the input of additional law enforcement agencies. We have a signed Memorandum of Agreement with the LEH Police Department, which allows us to work together to create a safe environment in our district.

“We have a comprehensive crisis management plan and annually review our security and safety plans with staff, students, and local police authorities.

“We conduct monthly drills to include fire, lock down, shelter in place, and evacuation drills. We conducted an active shooter drill in October of 2016.

“We have 24/7 video and camera outdoor and indoor surveillance of all school buildings. All exterior doors are secured and locked during the school day, and staff are instructed to keep classroom doors closed during the school day.

“All visitors must enter the school via the front entrance. They must buzz and show ID that is monitored via an electronic screening and management system.

“All staff are required to wear ID badges. In the event of an emergency, all staff have access to the Share911 App that allows them to initiate emergency response via their cell phones.” —P.J.

Eric Englund, Pat Johnson and Gina G. Scala

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