LINDEN, NJ — Armed special law enforcement officers in uniform will soon be posted inside four schools as part of the city’s ongoing effort to increase security for its 6,100 students.
The goal is to have the officers inside Linden High School’s Academy of Science and Technology, McManus and Soehl middle schools and School No. 2 by Jan. 1, 2019, Superintendent of Schools Danny Robertozzi said at the Board of Education meeting Oct. 30.
The board voted unanimously to enter into a shared services agreement with the city to hire the officers. The city council voted earlier in October to enter into the agreement.
Robertozzi said the city will immediately begin advertising for four special law enforcement, or Class III, officers.
The rank of Class III officer was created by the state in 2016, according to the state’s website.
The position of Class III officer is open to retired police officers who have served as “duly qualified, fully trained, full-time” officers in any municipality or county or as a member of the State Police. Class III officers must be 65 years old or younger, have been retired less than three years and live n New Jersey.
An applicant for Class III officer must also pass a psychological exam, a drug test, a background check and other measures.
Robertozzi said the Linden Board of Education began to look at ways to increase security and safety in its schools after the February shooting deaths of 17 students and staff members at a high school in Parkland, Fla. The board has adopted a series of more stringent security guidelines, such as requiring parents to make appointments with teachers prior to coming to school and requiring visitors to present identification. The idea of hiring Class III officers also was raised.
Robertozzi said the changes “absolutely had nothing to do with any particular incident in the Linden school district. It was primarily the discussion that took place after the Parkland, Fla., incident last year. The sole purpose of it is to reduce the response time in the event of a tragedy. The sooner you have an armed officer in the building to neutralize a threat, the more lives can be saved. So, it’s completely a pre-emptive thing. It’s not a decision we made lightly. A lot of discussions took place about this.”
Robertozzi said Linden High School currently has a school resource officer, a full-time member of the police department assigned to the school. Many municipalities have been opting to hire special law enforcement officers as a cheaper alternative. Typically, they are part-time employees who are not entitled to health insurance coverage and other benefits. Other towns have explored hiring armed security guards to post inside schools. The Bloomfield Board of Education approved a budget in April that included $550,000 for security guards.
Robertozzi said the city will pay $50,000 toward the four officers and the rest of the bill will be paid by the the board. He said he isn’t sure how much that will be because there are some training expenses involved. He said each officer will make about $50,000 annually.
Linden Police Chief David Hart will hire the officers, Robertozzi said. Although they will be assigned to the schools, the officers will report to Hart.
“I’m very grateful to Mayor (Derek) Armstead and entire City Council for supporting this initiative,” Robertozzi said. “It could not happen if both the city and the Board of Education did not agree that this was a good idea for the safety of our children and staff. Everybody saw what this was. There’s no political issue here. This was strictly about the safety of our children, our staff and without hesitation when I went to the mayor, when I went to the chief, when I went to the administration, the council and this Board of Education, not one person said no. Everyone gave their support.”
Said Armstead during a Nov. 2 phone interview: “At some point, it would be nice to see law enforcement in every school, but I just don’t think right now we can afford it. What we’re doing now is we’re going to give it a try and see how it works. We’re going to everything humanly possible to be able afford it. We’ll continue to collaborate with the board of education. I think the safety of our children is paramount and no one is going to argue with safety. I would rather have it and not need than need it and not have it.”