Retired Officers Could Soon Be Patrolling Barnegat Schools

Mar 07, 2018
Photo by: Ryan Morrill Russell O. Brackman Middle School in Barnegat Township

Barnegat Township is looking to take advantage of a new state provision in which retired law enforcement personnel can work in public schools as Class III officers. A bill that was signed into law by then-Gov. Christie late last year establishes “Class III” special police officers designated to provide security at both public and private schools. They would not replace school resource officers, who are specially trained, full-time police officers stationed at some schools to operate DARE and similar programs. 

The measure says the officers would work during regular school hours, and their jurisdiction would be limited to school grounds. Police Chief Keith Germain said the designation would be open to retired officers younger than 65 who left a police department in good standing. They would be required to meet the same firearm qualifications as active-duty police officers.

The legislation was sought by the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police. North Plainfield Police Chief William Parenti, the association’s president, thanked the governor and lawmakers for getting the law passed.

“Nothing is more important than the safety of our children, and we strongly believe that this law gives our state an important new tool in providing a safer environment for our school kids, our teachers, and everyone else who works at or visits schools and community colleges in our state,” Parenti said in a statement at the time the bill was signed into law.

The issue of security and safety in schools was again brought to the forefront following the Feb. 14 shooting in the Parkland, Fla., high school that left 17 people dead. It was on the minds of many who attended a recent Barnegat Board of Education meeting,    

Questions were raised about whether Barnegat should have full-time officers in the district's six school buildings. Currently, the high school is the only one with an officer on full-time patrol, while the four elementary schools and middle school have daily intermittent patrols.

Germain said such a move would result in a $1 million increase in the police budget. He said if the township hires the Class III officers, the budget increase would be considerably lower.

When questions were posed about installing metal detectors, Germain said they could create additional complications.

“You might wind up having a few hundred kids standing outside waiting to get in as each person goes through the detector,” he said. “You have to think these things through.” 

Late last month, students in schools all over the country staged walkouts to take a stand against gun violence. A group of students from Russell Brackman Middle School in Barnegat Township briefly left the building as a show of solidarity.

District Superintendent Karen Wood said that while she understood why students were taking a stand, she did not like the fact that prior to the walkout, the students advertised it on social media.

“They could have left themselves vulnerable for trouble,” said Wood. “Instead of remembering the victims, they could have become victims themselves.”

Wood said that after the Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut in 2013, the Barnegat district implemented a “panic button.”  She said it enables an administrator or staff member to contact police directly instead of going through the 911 system. All officers on the road or at headquarters are immediately alerted to the emergency.

“It enables us to respond very quickly,” said Germain.

Board of education President Scott Sarno said that since last month’s shooting, school officials and Germain have held numerous meetings addressing school safety.

“We really can’t talk specifically yet about what we might do,” said Sarno. “But all we know is that everything must be done to ensure the safety of all our students. Nobody should feel unsafe when they are in a school building.”

Wood added, “But no matter what we do, it will never seem like enough.”

— Eric Englund

ericenglund@thesandpaper.net

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