CRANFORD, NJ — Building a relationship between the community and its police department starts at a young age, according to Cranford Police Department Juvenile Supervisor Sgt. Matt Nazzaro, and the school district has found a way to increase law enforcement visibility in schools.
With the implementation of three new substations — one each in Cranford High, Hillside Avenue and Orange Avenue schools — unveiled at the beginning of April, the CPD is one step closer to bridging the gap between law enforcement and the public.
The program creates designated office space to be used by the department’s patrol division on a daily basis.
“At the end of the day, the goal is educational and mutual respect and understanding between cops and the students,” Nazzaro said in an April 10 phone interview with LocalSource. “Cops can’t just expect to be respected. It’s definitely earned and we have to build relationships with these kids in a setting that is familiar to them.”
Prior to establishing the substations, the district entered into a shared-services agreement with the CPD in 2014 that placed three juvenile detectives, who are cross-trained as school resource officers, into the schools.
“We currently have school resource officers who interact with the school community on a daily basis, providing valuable feedback on safety issues, participating in classroom lessons and building positive relationships with students and faculty,” Superintendent Scott Rubin said in an email on April 12. “Adding substations will only make these partnerships even stronger and more collaborative.”
The patrol officers won’t have set hours at the substations, according to Nazzaro, but they will monitor all the schools and have the opportunity to have one-on-one conversations with students.
“We’re looking to be another trusted face in our school district,” he said.
The Cranford Board of Education has plans to add an additional school resource officer in September, according to Rubin.
“The district is very proud and appreciative of its already very strong partnership with the Cranford Police Department,” he added.
The Home Depot of Garwood, led by store manager Gino Temporal, provided construction supplies, paint and carpeting to aid in the project’s successful completion. Donated laptop computers may be used by officers for reports and follow-up investigations.
The implementation of the substations is just one of the district’s recent additions to safety and security in the township’s public schools.
At the start of the school year, the district introduced safety vestibules, where each school has an electronic double door entry system, new visitor-entry protocols, security cameras and perimeter door alarms.
The district also introduced StopIt, a phone application that gives students the ability to report issues anonymously. Also established was the new position of district coordinator of culture and climate, tasked with attending to the social and emotional needs of students and help enhance the culture and climate throughout the district.
“School safety will always be the district’s No. 1 priority,” Rubin said.
The district organized a safety audit by the New Jersey Department of Education’s Office of School Preparedness and Emergency Planning in conjunction with the Union County Prosecutor’s Office and the CPD, which provided feedback for the safety initiatives last spring.
“Our officers participate in classroom lessons, offer feedback on mandated school drills and interact with teachers on a daily basis,” police Chief Ryan Greco said in a press release. “The consistent presence in schools afforded by these designated spaces foster communication and a healthy working relationship.”
Nazzaro said the substations not only benefit the students, but also the department and officers who have the opportunity to frequent them.
“This provides a vehicle for us to have a designated space for, not only our school resource officers, but now members of the patrol division,” he said.
Rubin said the district hopes to add more substations in the future.