Armed and Safe
By Sgt. Anthony Espino

In the wake of the last mass school shooting at Marjorie Stoneham High School in Parkland Florida, there has been lots of talk about how can we stop these senseless acts of violence and how to protect our children better. Arming teachers or hiring armed security officers are popular conversations. However, in New Jersey, talk had already moved to action. On November 30, 2016, legislation (S2983) established a new category of police officers—Class III Special Police Officers designated to provide security at both public and private schools working regular school hours and their jurisdiction limited to school grounds only.

Class III positions are open to retired officers under 65 who left a police department in good standing. Class III officers are required to meet the same firearm qualifications as active-duty police officers. Having these officers patrol our schools provides security and a sense of calm to our teachers and students.

These officers can provide skill, knowledge and the mindset needed to engage a potential school shooter. These officers spent an entire career, sometimes a lifetime, training to work under stressful conditions. All of them had experienced stressful situations at one time or another when they patrolled the streets.

Having an armed officer in a school will change the overall “soft target,” because no longer will an active shooter enter a school without being engaged by an armed officer. Active shooters tend to pick easy targets. They do not select locations where someone will be shooting back. The ability to use force is what keeps the threat from happening.

Class III officers are affordable for jurisdictions to hire because they do not receive health benefits or contribute to a pension, and their salary ranges from $30,000 to $40,000 for the school year compared to an active police officer who’s making over $100,000 per year. At that comparison, you can hire three Class III officers for the price of one police officer. Class III officers also lessen the manpower burden on local police departments by keeping them from taking an officer off the streets.

The reality is armed officers are needed in schools today. Our children must be protected. Signing (S2983) is obvious that our local legislators want to protect our schools. Now our local community leaders need to do their part. The time to start implementing Class III officers at every school is now, not when the next school shooting happens, because unfortunately as history has proven over and over again, the next school shooting may be coming soon to a school near you.

Sgt. Anthony Espino is a 18-year veteran police officer, assigned to the Patrol and Crime Prevention Unit. His passion is to lecture to community members, teachers, and students to promote awareness and offer tips to prevent crime and victimization.