E’town schools want to add Class III police for security

By Coleen Burnett

Eatontown — An effort to make Eatontown’s schools a bit safer came under a preliminary discussion at the April 10 Borough Council meeting. It was only a start. But the conversation on placing Class III officers – trained police officers – to patrol the schools got a mostly positive reaction.

Under a proposed shared services agreement that is still being drawn up between the police department, the council and the Eatontown Board of Education, the school would hire a Class III, a retired officer (or officers), who would be armed and have at least 25 years of service as a policeman.

He or she cannot be over 65 years of age.

The program would be entirely run by the police department.

“The success of the program is due to how well they are supervised and how well the program is implemented. That’s why I am very confident that not only is it a necessity these days to have Class III’s in place, but I know it will be implemented properly,” said Eatontown Police Chief William Lucia.

Lucia and School Superintendent Scott McCue stood side by side at the workshop meeting to make their case for the officers. The two told the council the officers would not be involved in day to day discipline. In fact, should a fight break out, the officer would be obligated to call police first.

“They are there for security, and security only,” said Lucia. “If somebody comes in with a weapon, they would be involved… they are not going to run in and put everyone in handcuffs.”

It will also take time to implement.

The idea was first brought up this past January, and subsequent to that a letter was also sent out to parents asking for feedback. (The deadline for comments is April 24.)

“Realistically, the program could not start until next year,” said Borough Administrator Cherron Rountree.

It is also worth noting that the Eatontown police are currently encouraged to stop by the schools during their shifts.

How many officers would be hired is another question. Ideally officials would like four, with one each in the four elementary schools. But it depends on the amount of funding that is secured.

“What’s been {considered} as a possibility is to have two between the four schools and continue to analyze the program,” Rountree said.

During the public comment portion of the regular meeting, some residents said that they were initially against the idea, but had changed their minds.

Eatontown resident Sarah Breslow wondered if it was a good use of funds and if there were any statistics to show that having such officers in the schools would make them any safer.

“Who knows how many times that’s deterred anything from happening?” she said.

Lucia said there was no way of telling — there are few, if any, such statistics available — but he was confident another layer of security wouldn’t hurt.

“If somebody wants to shoot their way in, the only way you’re going to stop them is that there is a good guy inside to shoot at him. There’s no other way.

“What we do is to buy the time for the guys on the road to eliminate the threat. The only way to do that is to have an officer in there, who can return the fire, protect the kids, and give everybody in the school a fighting chance,” said Lucia.

Another resident commented, “It would be a shame if this did not pass.”

“If something happens, it would be on your shoulders,” the resident said.

A public hearing on the ordinance in its final form is scheduled for May 8.