Trio of MacArthur bills aimed at improving school and community safety
Schools across New Jersey and the nation have already enhanced security measures with local police departments by adding in armed officers and protocols, but a pair of bills introduced and one more being worked on by Congressman Tom MacArthur will tighten things even further.
The Mental Health and Public Safety Partnership Act, which has bipartisan support, establishes a national pilot program to place on-site social workers in qualified police departments around the country, an expanded version of the On P.O.I.N.T. (Proactive Outreach In Needs and Treatment) program established in Stafford Township under the direction of Chief Tom Dellane in September of 2016.
The On P.O.I.N.T. program provides police officers and social workers in our community the opportunity to work together to better understand how to assist families dealing with mental health related issues.
“In many towns across the country, there is a gap between mental health and law enforcement services that needs to be filled. Fostering relationships between law enforcement officials and social workers will better serve our communities and enhance safety throughout our communities,” MacArthur said.
MacArthur said the success of the program in Stafford Township and seeing how police officers and social workers work hand-in-hand to help people with a mental health issue sparked the move to get this program installed on a national level so it can be mirrored elsewhere.
"Police officers will frequently encounter somebody that is working through some mental health issue or people that are homeless and rather than them try and solve that, by having a social worker inside the department those police officers could get them help and they can move on to other cases, and then the social worker helps those people," MacArthur said.
The national pilot program provides $300,000.00 grants to eight community mental health centers in various regions throughout the country through a directive by the attorney general to establish a three-year pilot program.
The Modern School Threat Reporting Act creates new grants for states to create a mobile application (app) that allows students and teachers to report threats to local law enforcement.
This bill is in response to the Parkland, Florida school shooting where lawmakers in the Sunshine State enacted a law creating a reporting app to allow people to anonymously report suspicious activity in schools and the community to law enforcement.
“After the tragedy in Florida, students and those in the greater Parkland community came forward about previous signs of mental instability and the intentions of the perpetrator. Creating an avenue to anonymously report threats to local law enforcement will promote community safety and may prevent another one of these horrific events from occurring,” MacArthur said. “These innovative and modern tools will help states with their specific needs and bolster ongoing efforts to secure schools and create an effective relationship between schools and law enforcement agencies.”
MacArthur’s bill incentivizes states to create an app of their own, which has been an initiative championed by Andrew Pollack, whose daughter, Meadow, was lost on that tragic day in Parkland.
The legislation also requires that applications for the grant must include a plan to deter misuse of the app, including ways to prevent students from using it to bully others.
"It authorizes $50,000.00 grants for states to acquire and make the mobile app available and it builds in the issue making sure that online bullying doesn't take place as a result of (reporting) it," MacArthur said.
Pollack, who is the founder of Americans for Children's Lives and School Safety, has endorsed both pieces of legislation and is collaborating with MacArthur on the third that will expand the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, also known as the Clery Act, to high schools receiving federal funds.
It was named for Jeanne Clery, a 19-year-old Lehigh University student who was raped and murdered in her dorm in 1986.
The Clery Act is a federal law that requires colleges and universities to maintain records of criminal activity on and around their campuses and make that information available to the public.
"Information wouldn't get hidden because of a school not wanting the bad press, things would have to be publicly reported and it has worked well in the college and university setting," MacArthur said. "It's different in the high school setting but that's what I'm aiming for is to make sure that crime statistics and criminal episodes don't get brushed under the rug."
"After my daughter was taken from me, I made it my mission to bring people together to do more to protect our schools. I stood at The White House, in front of the world, imploring our elected leaders to work together to fix it. There have been some steps taken to make our children safer, but we need to do more. I believe that Congressman Tom MacArthur's legislation at the federal level will help,” Andrew Pollack said. “Accountability matters, which is why the Clery Act needs to be expanded to include secondary schools receiving federal funds. Here in Florida, our leaders took action and created a suspicious activity reporting app, which is now available to students across the state. Tom's effort to encourage every state in the nation to create apps similar to Fortify Florida is something I have been pushing for and hope to see it pass immediately. We need to think outside the box and look to successful efforts at the local level, which is exactly what the Mental Health and Public Safety Partnership Act does. By having social workers embedded in police departments, the gap between law enforcement and mental health professionals can be closed, allowing cops to be cops and social workers to address any mental health concerns that are identified."
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