Somers Point police will soon be patrolling all of the city’s public, private and charter schools as part of a new program in response to last month’s elementary school shooting in Connecticut.
“It helps us help the schools,” said Chief Michael Boyd at a council meeting Thursday, when he explained the initiative.
Boyd said the idea took shape the week after the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., where 20 students and six faculty members were killed by 20-year-old Adam Lanza. It was devised without taking manpower away from day-to-day operations or leaving the force short, he said.
One officer, Lt. Anthony DiSciascio, has already introduced himself at many of the schools, and several other officers are being trained for the patrols.
“I’m very excited about the new position,” Disciascio said, but referred all questions about the program to Boyd.
“I think it’s really helpful,” said Monica Dohorquez, who has a 4-year-old student at the New York Avenue School. “It’s pretty safe now, but anything could happen.”
With regards to stationing an officer in every school, Boyd said, “We can’t afford to do that, and I don’t think the school can afford to do that.”
Boyd said the officers, as part of the training, visit the schools to get familiar with the layout, but after that have no interaction with the district schools.
These officers will now be part of the program and patrol-based on alternating two-week schedules, but the exact schedule will not be released, Boyd said. Officers assigned to the patrols will begin new schedules Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the schools.
“I think the staff will feel that having some sort of presence will make it safer,” said Jim Scarano, a third grade teacher at Dawes Avenue School. “I see it as a deterrent.”
Scarano said that having a uniformed officer on the premises, as well as the patrol car stationed outside the building, should prove to be a significant deterrent to intruders.
So far, Scarano, said his students have not had any questions about the presence of a police officer in the school.
“I don’t think they have a real understanding of why he is there,” Scarano said.
Boyd said the goal is to have any incidents that occur be reported immediately, with an officer on the scene as soon as it happens. But DiSciascio won’t be a disciplinarian, he said.
“He’s not going to be the one that hollers and yells at kids,” he said. “He’s a presence at the school that opens up the lines of communication between school administration, teachers and the Police Department.”
Discussions between the school board and Police Department took place over the past two weeks before an agreement was made. The boards at St. Joseph Regional Catholic School and Charter-Tech High School are still pending final approval, Boyd said.
“The common thread here is that we knew we had to do something,” he said.
Dohorquez said the district sent letters to parents in December saying it was working on increasing security in the schools.
Boyd said the next step will be forming a committee to take a look at what other areas can improve. This will likely include members of the fire department, school board, faculty and City Council, he said.
Mayor Jack Glasser called the program admirable, given how busy the city’s police are.
“We are headed in the right direction, and . . . we are being proactive,” he said, echoing councilman Ralph Triboletti. “The bottom line is we want to make sure our children are safe and secure in their educational environment.”
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