BAYONNE, NJ - The shooting at a Jewish grocery store in Jersey City had repercussions for Bayonne students that many might not have suspected.
An internet threat made after the shooting resulted in a lockdown of Bayonne schools, but worse, an increase in the level of concern among some of the district’s students.
Just how safe are students in Bayonne and what steps are being taken against something bad happening here?
Four juniors at Bayonne High School -- Kiarqa Gould, Destiny Walker, Johanna Abdou and Petra Ghaly – decided to find out, and on March 4, school and law enforcement officials, along with state and local elected leaders, joined them and other students in a forum to provide answers.
As if to highlight the need for information, the day before the forum two 12-year-old students from Robinson School reported a suspicious person who they believed might be following them. While police later said the man they saw was merely walking to work, the incident showed to some officials the level of anxiety in the school district.
“The threat against the school caused some angst among the students,” Superintendent John J. Niesz said. “These students wanted to know what was being done and proposed a security summit.” Niesz agreed, highlighting his belief that isolating students behind some kind of wall won’t work.
“You can build a 12-foot wall around the school and some bad guy will come along with a 13-foot ladder,” Niesz said.
The students grilled officials on how they might react to an emergency situation, and also asked what precautions they are taking to anticipate or prevent future incidents.
Much has changed in security since he graduated from Bayonne High School in 1988, Deputy Police Chief Walter Rogers said, especially in communications and response. While cops kept an eye on schools back when he attended, new programs have made access to the school easier and cops have become more familiar with the school buildings and the conditions.
Having public safety personnel familiar with the schools helps significantly, he added, because they already know the landscape. Walters added that public safety professionals have much more training today than in the past, that include active shooter drills, as well as the more traditional fire drills. There are also shelter in place procedures.
“Officers are more visible, even encouraged to park patrol cars near schools in order to be more visible,” he said.
Police are also more active in monitoring social media when there are concerns, he said.
Over the last two years, the state has allowed police to have greater access to schools, and in Bayonne local law enforcement officials have engaged in SWAT training for the worst-case scenarios.
Mayor Jimmy Davis said the department doesn’t merely train and respond, but after an event is over, they get the public safety staff together to determine what worked and what didn’t, and how to make things better the next time.
In a move that will be most visible to students, Bayonne High School Principal Richard Baccarella said the district is installing a new identification system with scanners at entrances signaling whether an individual is permitted to enter a location, or, in the case of a suspended student, are to be refused entry. That will increase security significantly, Baccarella said, noting that the current sticker system is only temporary.
Responding to student’s concerns that they are sometimes left in the dark when an emergency occurs Assistant Superintendent Kenneth Kopacz said that sometimes officials cannot disclose information about ongoing situations. But he said student drills such as fire drills are often designed to help protect students when real events occur.
Councilman Gary LaPelusa shared his belief that it is up to the legislative body he sits on to make sure public safety had the resources it needs to respond to a situation, while Bayonne Fire Chief Keith Weaver reminded students that while public safety officials are well-prepared to respond when necessary students should always put the adage “if you see something, say something” into action as each is a “foundation of information.”
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