EDITOR’S NOTE: The following letter to the editor ran on May 21, 2014. Its author, Westfield Board of Education member Mitch Slater, asked that in be re-published today, June 9, 2015. At tonight’s meeting, the BOE will vote on whether to cut the position of special resource officer from full- to part-time (20 hours) for the upcoming school year due to funding cuts, he said. Slater said he will continue to oppose keeping an SRO — an armed Westfield police officer — in the schools.
Last night at the Board of Education Meeting the plan was to hear a presentation about the effectiveness of the Student Resource Officer (Westfield policeman) for this past school year. One would have thought the actual officer himself would have appeared and spoke, but instead we heard a presentation from our Guidance Director and WHS Vice Principal.
I was very disappointed to not hear directly from the officer, though my views have not changed that what we really needed was a SAC (student assistance counselor) or mental health professional instead of an armed officer. Recently a criminologist at the University of Maryland wrote, "There is no evidence that placing officers in the schools improves safety. And it increases the number of minor behavior problems that are referred to the police — pushing kids into the criminal justice system."
Recently The Star Ledger reported on an incident at another NJ School where a coach at a sporting event grabbed the holster and gun from the school SRO and pointed it another coach in anger. Fortunately nobody was hurt, but these kinds of situations are alarming.
Just last week in another state a High School senior prank was met with an SRO approaching the students with his gun pointing directly at them — not knowing it was a prank. Add to the mix that a 2010 study of NYC Police officers showed that in situations where they are firing directly at a person, only 28.3 percent actually hit their target. Nobody wants to imagine what a stray bullet would do in a school of 2,000 kids and hundreds of staff. I am not staying that would ever happen with our excellent police force, but it's just not worth the risk in my opinion.
Neighboring towns are choosing other methods of security, like a wonderful new technology called the Share 911 program. It is a high tech emergency information system that provides access for employees, teachers, students, parents and most importantly first responders. It is being used all over NJ (nearby Springfield and Berkeley Heights, for example) in schools that have chosen to not have an armed SRO.
I also would like to know what the students' take has been on the SRO — I think a survey would be very helpful here. Please know I have nothing against our current SRO — he is an excellent officer and a dedicated young man. Obviously as a parent I want all of our schools to be a safe environment. I just do not believe bringing a gun into the school is the smartest way to do it.
These are the views of Mitch Slater, Westfield resident, and do not reflect the views or opinions of the Board of Education.
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