By DON STINE
Three specially-trained, armed police officers will be in place at the High School and Intermediate schools in Ocean Township beginning this fall, with a long-range plan to eventually deploy six officers to the township’s five public schools.
On June 19 the Board of Education approved hiring the Special Class III officers to improve security at schools. Schools open for students Sept. 6.
“We are hitting our target date but we will definitely not make it by the school opening. We have not had many inquiries so the job openings are still posted. But I am hopeful we will find three more officers by the end of the school year,” Police Chief Steven R. Peters said earlier this week.
The Special Class III officers, who are retired police officers, will carry firearms and receive special training for their new job. The officers cannot have been retired for more than three years and will be specially trained to identify and address the needs of school children.
They will take school-resource training courses for two weeks at the police academy, drill in active-shooter training, practice CPR and receive other training.
Peters said that three special police officers will be in place by October, one in the Intermediate School and one in the High School. The other officer will float between the two schools.
The special police officers are only allowed to work 32 hours a week, which creates the need for a “floating” police officer to fill in for the other five officers, as needed.
“The three officers will all be in place within the next few weeks if all goes according to plan, hopefully by the beginning of October,” Peters said.
He said that special training, background checks and other requirements need to be completed before the officers can be deployed.
“The candidate pool is shallow and there are not (retired) officers running up to take this job. We are doing our best,” Peters said.
The long-term goal is to hire six special officers, one for each school with the extra “floating officer” filling in at any school, as needed.
“There will be overlapping shifts,” he said.
The officers, who will not receive any medical or pension benefits, will be paid an estimated $50,000 each with the cost being shared between the school district and the police department. The new officers are not replacing the existing security measures now in place at schools and they will only have jurisdiction within the school.
“After the Parkland shooting there has been a lot of discussion about the best way to keep our schools as safe as possible. The board felt having an armed guard in a building rather than minutes away could mean a lot. An armed guard is not a guarantee but certainly a way to shorten response times. Someone will be in the school to respond quickly and hopefully save lives,” Superintendent of Schools James Stefankiewicz said previously.
He also said the school district also deals with potential security problems by having an aggressive student-counseling service in conjunction with local human services.