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NJ Attorney General Issues Directive on School Violence Threats

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State Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal. Credits: Courtesy NJ Attorney General's Office
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TRENTON, NJ – In the wake of the deadly Valentine's Day school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 students and teachers dead and other recent mass shootings, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal has issued a statewide law enforcement directive to clarify that when local law enforcement agencies receive tips about suspicious activity related to terrorism or threatened acts of violence, including violence directed at schools, they must immediately notify both their County Terrorism Coordinators and the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness (NJOHSP), which, in turn, shall immediately share such reports with the FBI.

The new directive, which was issued Monday updates and replaces Attorney General Directive 2016-7. The 2016 directive focused more narrowly on “suspicious activity with a possible nexus to terrorism” and required law enforcement to report such activity to NJOHSP “within 24 hours.” The new directive  first expands the definition of suspicious activities to better reflect the current threat landscape to now include “any and all threats of violence generally to any public location or mass gathering area” and “threats of violence specifically to any school, workplace, or house of worship, or other criminal activity related to terrorism.”

Second, the new directive mandates that law enforcement agencies make notifications concerning such activity “immediately” – not within 24 hours – to both the Counterterrorism Watch Section (“CT Watch”) of NJOHSP and their County Terrorism Coordinator, a position maintained within each County Prosecutor’s office. Third, the new directive requires NJOHSP to immediately share information it receives concerning suspicious activity with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces and all 21 County Terrorism Coordinators.

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“The safety of New Jersey’s children and families has to be our paramount consideration,” Gov. Phil Murphy said. “I applaud Attorney General Grewal’s directive for immediate law enforcement notification if there are threats or suspicious activity potentially related to terrorism or other violence. It is through common-sense changes like these that we can make our public institutions, houses of worship, and state safer for all residents.”

“When there is a potential threat to our school students or people anywhere in New Jersey, law enforcement alerts, information-sharing, and action must happen immediately, not within 24 hours,” Grewal said. “There can be no delay or hanging back at any level to assess the situation when the lives of students or others may be at risk. The realities of the current threat landscape require us to not only exercise maximum vigilance with respect to ‘soft targets,’ such as schools, but also demand a consistent and swift response by law enforcement. This directive closes gaps that previously existed and ensures that threats are timely forwarded by local law enforcement agencies to those agencies in the best position to assess and follow up on them.”

“For the past several years, the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, along with the Office of the Attorney General and New Jersey Department of Education, have been working together to improve the safety and security of New Jersey’s schoolchildren, school staff, and school buildings,” said NJOHSP Director Jared Maples. “We are reinforcing our commitment to school safety and security and the reporting of suspicious activity (SARs). We continue to emphasize law enforcement and the public’s role in maintaining the state’s safety and security. If you ‘See Something, Say Something’ by reporting suspicious activity to NJOHSP’s Counterterrorism Watch Unit at 866-4SAFENJ or tips@njohsp.gov.”

“The New Jersey State Police are co-located with OHSP personnel who receive these SARs, and we will continue to share information and intelligence as it is reported,” said Colonel Patrick Callahan, acting Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “All troopers will be directed to immediately report these tips and leads through existing channels to ensure that they are investigated and acted upon, as appropriate.”

NJOHSP plays an integral role in collecting information and leads related to all forms of suspicious activity, assessing it and disseminating it for appropriate follow-up by local, state and/or federal partners. The CT Watch Section of NJOHSP was created and staffed specifically for the intake and initial evaluation of such terrorism- and threat-related tips and information. By mandating immediate dual reporting to County Terrorism Coordinators and the CT Watch Section, the directive will not only allow for an immediate local law enforcement response if necessary, but will also permit NJOHSP to evaluate the reported information and disseminate it as appropriate.

At an appearance on Feb. 20 with Murphy, Maples and Callahan, the Attorney General that his office will conduct a thorough review of the existing Attorney General Directive on School Security (Directive 2007-1) to ensure that New Jersey remains at the forefront of school safety and that best practices are being shared and implemented consistently across the state. He also pledged to conduct a comprehensive review of the reporting systems currently in place and available for students, educators and other concerned citizens when there are warning signs that a student or other person may intend to harm students or educators.

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