There will be armed police officers in Toms River Schools starting this year
Toms River has joined a list of New Jersey towns who have or will be adding armed police officers to their schools heading into the 2018-19 academic year.
The township council has approved an ordinance to provide additional regular and special law enforcement officers necessitated by expanded Police Department responsibilities.
The Toms River Police Department will add 15 Class 3 officers to its Special Law Enforcement Officer Unit (SLEO's) in the 2018-2019 school year, providing an additional layer of safety and community policing to provide every school with an armed police officer.
The SLEO's will be assigned to Toms River Regional Schools and one to Donovan Catholic School.
The money for the officers in the buildings will be split between Toms River Regional Schools and the Township.
Donovan Catholic will pay for the SLEO in their school as will any K-12 private school in the future.
"With the recent violence that has occurred in schools across the country, I thought it was necessary to take a proactive approach and redirect resources to school safety with additional school resource officers for the safety of our students, educators and the community," Mayor Tom Kelaher said. "There may not be a best solution to this but at least by having armed police officers in the schools, if a shooter bypasses security at the door, they're going to be immediately be confronted with somebody who knows how to shoot."
There's no perceived threat to any of the schools right now nor do the anticipate one but Kelaher says it's important to have this program in place just in case something happens.
"It's like insurance, you hope you never need it but if you do it's nice to have," Kelaher said.
The recent shootings or threats are a prime reason as to why this preventative safety measure is being put in place.
"They're (schools) places where a lot of people happen to be at one time and we feel that any building where there's a potential for that kind of threat, it should be assessed and there should be added security," Little said. "It's been a need that that's been around for a very long time, probably as along as police officers have been working for decades, but with recent events it brought our attention more towards the schools."
Little says adding these armed officers is only part of a bigger preventative plan.
"It's actually developing a safety program working with the schools and trying to make those locations the safest they could possibly be, whatever that might be, it could be physical barriers, it could just be the officer himself making sure the right precautions are being taken," Little said.
Little says these officers will first evaluate the type of threat, whether it be physical, over the phone, on social media or writing on a wall.
After that the officer will take the appropriate action
"They will be able to call in for any reinforcements or road officers, supervisors, a SWAT team...whatever resources that officer needs, obviously he's going to get them," Little said.
These officers will be tasked with helping map out a security plan for the school they're assigned to.
"Their recommendations are going to go a long way and then obviously it's going to take the supervisors and a team of people to actually put a plan together," Little said. "If we identify an issue, we're going to address it. Having the officer in there to address every location is going to be key."
Little also says it's important for police, the school and its students and staff to all be on the same page.
"Interaction with the staff and the students is key," Little said. "They have to know what our job is and we have to know how they're going to react to a certain situation so education with everyone in that building is key."
As time moves forward and police and the schools evaluate the progress of the program, more officers or other security measures could be added if they feel those safety additions are necessary.
Toms River joins shore towns in Point Pleasant Beach, Howell and Brick to add armed officers to their schools, all following the Parkland, Florida shooting earlier this year.
An incident in neighboring Lakewood just a couple months ago where a student brought a .22-caliber handgun onto a school bus, resulted in metal detectors being added to all schools in that township.
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