HAZLET – Since the tragic school shooting tragedy at a Parkland, Florida high school a year ago that left 17 students and staff members dead, securing the district’s schools has been an urgent priority in the district.
Double entry doors have been installed at all the schools and visitors are being tightly controlled, among other changes.
There are three police officers assigned to make nonscheduled visits at the district’s eight schools, paid for through the school budget.
It was announced on Monday that there is a goal to provide two seasoned police officers, known as Student Resource Officers (SROs) to be stationed permanently at Raritan High School and Hazlet Middle School, starting in September. They will provide security and participate in substance abuse prevention programming. They will be paid for by the township.
The three officers currently on patrol will continue to make unscheduled visits between the district’s six other elementary schools and kindergarten.
“We’re really excited about that additional security and the educational component,” said School Board President Lauri O’Leary at Monday night’s meeting at Beers Street School, where the Superintendent Scott Ridley announced the latest development in district security, with Mayor Scott Aagre, Police Chief Philip Meehan and Deputy Chief Ted Wittke in attendance. “Thank you for the support.”
About a year ago Police Chief Philip Meehan and his team began meeting with school officials to discuss security.
“We sat at a table and wanted to really dissect the security of the school and make sure it was a safe environment for everyone. We quickly determined a few things. There were gaps,” said Meehan. The police department set out to offer a comprehensive plan in a two-year timeframe. They met monthly with the school board’s security committee and superintendent.
Hazlet used to have a DARE program and police presence in the schools but it was eliminated when staffing fell at the police department.
The police chief is excited to bring it back and work with the school on addressing issues that will likely include teen drinking, vaping and the rise of opiate addiction. According to the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, in 2018 there were 215 overdose deaths, 183 of which were caused by heroin/opiates.
“There’s never been a time that’s more important than now, as you know, in our own community, that we address substance abuse,” said Meehan.
It was mentioned more than once that it has been a long and difficult process to come up with a plan when budgets are tight. The cost of the new officers has not yet been nailed down, since it will depend on the officers chosen.
School District Administrator Christopher Mullins said the district currently pays $70,000 per officer through a PBA contract to work hourly in the schools.
In an email, Township Administrator Dennis Pino explained the potential cost of the two School Resource Officers slated for the fall:
“In general, two seasoned officers with salary, benefits, vehicles and operational / support cost have an estimated value of $500,ooo annually. The funds to support any individual selected, whether transfer or new hire, and to reinstitute the SRO program including enhanced school security elements are within the 2019 introduced municipal budget. Note there is no increase from the 2018 adopted municipal budget.”