BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The Bridgewater Township Council and the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District are working on hiring a new set of police officers to help protect the school buildings.
The council voted unanimously at its Sept. 6 meeting to introduce an ordinance that will allow the hiring of three class III special law enforcement officers to patrol the schools.
According to the New Jersey School Boards Association, the option for these officers was made available as of June 1 by state law that creates a type of law enforcement personnel that is trained specifically to provide security in and around schools. They are called Class Three Special Law Enforcement Officers, and they are hired only to provide security at schools when they are in session.
These officers are retired so they can be hired at lower costs, but will operate under the authority of the local police department and have full police powers.
The township ordinance was drafted by township attorney William Savo, and was sent to the school district for review. The district also requested that the new officers be added to the table of organization of the police department.
The measure still has to be discussed with the Bridgewater-Raritan board of education — although if the board approves the measure, the town council could follow suit at its next meeting.
“This is the initial step,” said Savo.
Councilman Howard Norgalis said the school board will pay all costs, which he requested to include any future legislation and settlements.
Council vice president Matthew Moench asked if any of the special officers might also be able to serve as a D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officer, since schools already have resource officers in place, although the proposal was to have the special officers serve in a primarily security role.
The issue of bringing D.A.R.E. back to the school district has been discussed previously, but never acted upon.
Norgalis said just before the council voted that he thought the special officers would be there specifically to walk the halls and protect Bridgewater-Raritan’s schoolchildren, as opposed to acting as traditional police officers.
Councilman Filipe Pedroso commended the board of education for being proactive.
“School security is an issue of national attention,” he said. “It’s the reality of today’s world.”
He said the ordinance is an example of government acting beforehand, prior to something tragic occurring, and added that he supports the measure.
Moench added that he would like to partner local schools and police with the On POINT program, which uses private partnerships and grant funding to partner social workers with the police department for earlier intervention and identification of problems in the community, including mental health and substance abuse disorder.
All five council members voted to introduce the special officers ordinance, which will have its public hearing at a council meeting in the near future.