Union police join with schools for safety program

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UNION, NJ — Local police have teamed up with school officials to make random checks at school buildings in the wake of the February school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

“The kids love it,” police Director Daniel Zieser said in a phone interview of the new “Park ‘n Walk” program. “We’re getting very positive feedback from the parents and the PTAs and the school board.”

Patrol officers will check all doors to the school building to make sure they’re secure. Officers will also enter the school through the front door and sign in with the greeter to do a walk-through of the building.

“If we find an open door we’ll submit a report and notify the director of security and they would handle it internally with the principal,” Zieser said.

School board President Vito Nufrio did not respond to a voicemail seeking comment and Superintendent Gregory Tatum did not respond to an email.

Zieser said the police department presented the plan to school officials, including the superintendent, assistant superintendent and the District Security Director Nicholas Ardito.

“It is everyone’s responsibility to make sure our school buildings are safe,” Ardito said in a statement. “The Park and Walk Program that we will start in cooperation with the Union police is a great way to partner with our communities’ first responders. It’s a great way for our staff and students to get to know who our police officers are and what they do for us every day. Our first responders are a second set of eyes for all of our safety.”

Union High School currently has a school resource officer assigned from the police department, Zieser said, but that officer cannot be at every school all the time. A patrol officer, their schedule permits, periodically checks all 10 public schools, two parochial schools and the Deron School of New Jersey, a special needs school.

Zieser said that since the program was implemented, officers have found “a couple of doors unlocked” within the district.
“It wasn’t rampant,” Zieser said, adding that doors had been “left open by maintenance people.”

School safety has been top of mind for students in the Union School District. Hundreds of high school students staged a walkout last month as part of a national protest against gun violence.

The protest came after 17 people were killed on Valentine’s Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.