North Bergen increases school security

Also supports impending national student walkout

North Bergen police officers will have an increased, armed presence in all public schools, in response to the recent Florida school shootings.
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North Bergen police officers will have an increased, armed presence in all public schools, in response to the recent Florida school shootings.

North Bergen school officials are working on plans to place an armed police officer in every public school, according to Mayor Nicholas Sacco. The plan comes after a gunman at a Parkland, Fla. high school killed 17 students and teachers Feb. 14. In the weeks after the shooting, schools around the country received anonymous threats, including North Bergen High School, whose officials found a “threat” on a bathroom wall on Friday, March 2.
Sources said that the threat, about which they could not elaborate, was to be carried out on March 5. But that school day went as planned, with extra police presence.

Special officers

Town officials said they are considering assigning one of two types of special officers to patrol each of the district’s schools. Class 2 special officers are part-time officers the town uses to save money, each only working three days per week. They are armed while on duty, but not off duty.
These officers have the same powers as full-time officers, but only while on the clock. Currently, North Bergen has 18 such officers on patrol, according to Police Chief Robert Dowd. More are set to graduate from the Passaic County Police Academy soon.
The town also could use Class 3 special officers, retired officers authorized to carry guns.
“What we’re looking at now is an attempt to get more specials,” Sacco said. He said more officers are needed, than the department’s current 120.
“We have to hire more,” Sacco said. “Our staff doesn’t permit us to cover every school. It’s something where we have to put a program and put our budget together. Hopefully by September we should be able to have the program in every school.”
Though he is unsure which class of officer the town will use, “The good thing about the ones who are retired is that they’ve already been though the academy,” Sacco said. “The Class 2 have the full training of a police officer, but it’s not as expensive.”
The initiative could cost the town as much as $250,000, Dowd said. “This is a vision the mayor is laying out, and he’s directed me to try to see if we can make this happen,” he said.
According to Dowd, the town currently has a school resource officer unit. It features two armed officers who regularly patrol NBHS, two more armed officers who patrol the other schools at random on a full-time basis, and a sergeant who oversees these officers.
Each school also has separate, unarmed security guards hired by the North Bergen Board of Education.

Recent threat

Speaking on the NBHS threat, Sacco said it was “vague” in nature. “For the most part, under normal circumstances, you wouldn’t take it as a threat, except in this climate,” he said. “There was no specifics on it. But we notified the parents and we also wanded everybody who came into the school.”
Sacco could not confirm local media reports that the threat involved guns, saying he couldn’t recall exactly what it said.

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The walkout will take place at 10 a.m. on March 14.

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Town participating in nationwide student walkout

On March 14, high school students, parents, and faculty in certain districts nationwide are staging a walkout to demand that Congress take action on gun control.
Sacco said that some North Bergen High School students said they plan on participating in that walkout at 10 a.m. Women’s March Youth EMPOWER, a movement harnessing women’s political power, has organized the event. It is planned to last 17 minutes, one minute for each person killed in the Florida school shootings.
Town officials plan to join the students, the mayor said.

Copycats

The towns of Secaucus and West New York both recently placed armed police officers in all their public schools. Bayonne is also considering hiring retired armed police to guard its schools after a series of recent social media threats that closed school this past Monday.
Two different people apparently made threats to the town’s schools via social media accounts over the weekend. On Tuesday, March 6, Bayonne police arrested a 13-year-old for allegedly making some of the threats.

Hannington Dia can be reached at hd@hudsonreporter.com