ROXBURY, NJ – Florida police are being accused of waiting outside a school Feb. 14 while a young gunman killed people inside. That won’t happen here, vowed Roxbury Police Chief Marc Palanchi this week.
Speaking before several hundred people Monday at a joint meeting of the Roxbury School Board and the Roxbury Mayor and Council, Palanchi said Roxbury police will not hesitate to confront bullets when it comes to saving students.
“I can promise you, when one of my officers shows up to an incident, they will go in and they will take care of it,” Palanchi said. “It’s just what we’re trained to do.”
The setting for Palanchi’s promise was a public forum on safety and security in Roxbury schools. The session was led by former Roxbury Police Chief James Simonetti, who now serves as security director for the school system.
Both men carefully avoided judging the performance of the Florida officers who, according to reports, failed to immediately enter Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to confront Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old charged with killing 17 inside the Parkland, Florida school.
But Palanchi’s statement was unequivocal: His officers will not take up positions outside.
Close to His Heart
“I will tell you with the utmost confidence,” he told the crowd. “I live in this town. I have four kids and my wife is a teacher. When one of my officers shows up at your school, he or she has all the training that we could possibly have packed into them and they have all of the equipment that is necessary for them to enter that building and end that situation as quickly as possible.”
Palanchi, about to enter his second year as chief, also said he believes Roxbury’s schools are safe and – under Simonetti’s guidance – increasingly becoming more secure. “I will assure you that … my family is going through the Roxbury school system and I am 100 percent confident,” said the chief. “I will never hesitate about having my wife and my kids go to these schools 180 days a year.”
Both Palanchi and Simonetti pointed to security systems already installed, or about to be installed, at the schools including “man trap” vestibules, digital cameras that can be accessed by police, “Informacast” digital display units in classrooms and collaborative response graphics technology that gives first responders easy-to-understand maps of facilities and school grounds.
The Value of Speaking Up
However, they – and Roxbury Schools Superintendent Loretta Radulic - stressed that the most important part of school security is communication between students, teachers, parents and officials. Of particular importance is the need for people, including students, to speak up if they believe someone is dangerous or leaning toward misbehavior, they said.
“Roxbury is safe because we live in a township that truly cares about its community,” Radulic said. “What I want you to keep in mind is that these steps are not new. We are not being reactive to situations. Rather, we’ve been proactive and planning all along. As such, I truly believe that Roxbury is a safe district and community.”
Simonetti and Radulic said they are taking seriously the concerns expressed by some people, including the use of township schools as election polling sites and the fact that there are no armed security officers on duty.
They said it’s important that security aspects don’t diminish the joy of learning. “We want the children to be children and allow the adults to handle the problem,” Simonetti said. “Let the kids be kids. Let them learn. Let them feel they’re in a safe environment.”
Simonetti, who wore a badge for 33 years, admitted he tends toward over-protection.
“I’m trying to not act like a cop all the time,” he said, noting Radulic is always reminding him “’Jimmy, you’re not building a prison.’”