SOUTH BRUNSWICK – South Brunswick will continue to use tactics employed almost two decades ago to ensure the safety of students and faculty members of the school district.
Police Chief Raymond Hayducka told a crowd of hundreds of residents the South Brunswick Police Department increased its security after the school shooting at Colorado’s Columbine High School in 1999. He said for 19 years, there have been police officers in schools on a year-round basis, reassessing cameras, locks and security issues, as well as maintaining a physical presence.
“It is continuous planning,” Hayducka said during a public meeting that was held Feb. 26 at the Crossroads Middle School North in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in which three teachers and 14 students were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14.
“This is not new just because something happened,” Superintendent Scott Feder said. “This is not a reaction and stop. This doesn’t stop. We continue to get better and protect our staff and our kids and our faculty.”
School and township officials met to ensure residents the 8,700 students and 1,300 staff members across 12 school buildings are in the best hands possible.
There are four school resource officers in addition to sworn officers who train twice each year for evacuation, bomb threat, lockdown and active shooter situations. Each South Brunswick officer also has SWAT training. Hayducka said patrol checks are conducted in and around school property during every shift, including midnights.
“We make sure we have good visibility and good presence,” he said.
In terms of an emergency situation, Hayducka said he is confident in the security plan, as all officers are fully equipped with ballistic vests, firearms and an assault rifle, and can reach any school from any point in town in less than four minutes. He also said that neighboring towns are available for backup, specifically the Cranbury Township Police Department, which has access to South Brunswick’s radio line.
“I assure you, if something happens, you will see a very rapid response,” he said.
Hayducka said the goal of law enforcement is to intervene to neutralize a threat, rescue victims and preserve the crime scene. He said that all officers are trained to engage the threat, even if only one officer is on scene.
“My officers know and feel the same way – they’re expected to engage an active shooter and they know that,” he said.
Both Hayducka and Feder said that every threat or rumor is investigated, even if that means knocking on someone’s door at 2 a.m. He urged residents to say something no matter how trivial it may seem, or what time of day it may occur.
“I assure you in New Jersey, in our police department, every threat is taken to a logical conclusion,” Hayducka said.
Hayducka also reported that in the past few weeks, two or three innuendos have been resolved as rumors.
In relation, Feder cautioned residents about posting information on social media, such as identifying students by name and school.
“It causes anger and unrest and makes people feel their children are not safe in a place that they are,” he said.
Because of this, although parents called for additional school resources officers, or even armed guards at each school, Hayducka said the current plan is to maintain the four school resources officers and additional police presence, because the town would need hundreds of officers as an occupying force to man every entrance and exit at each building. He said that the emphasis, instead, is on target hardening and rapid response.
Thus, Hayducka was adamant about not arming teachers, as has been suggested across the nation.
“I am not in support of anybody but a police officer with a gun,” he said to rousing applause. “Guns are dangerous. … Police officers have weapons in the schools.”
Harry Delgado, a former South Brunswick police captain who is now president of the South Brunswick Board of Education, and who works with police departments across the state for their accreditations, said a balance that uses staff and technology is beneficial as a proactive approach.
“We continue to look at … our safety and security systems every day,” he said, with officials mentioning new visitor monitoring software, double vestibules and bulletproof film for doors and windows as considerations for upgrades.
Feder added the “most powerful deterrent” is strength in relationships, both between the police and the school district, as well as families with their children. He said the town has to “work like a village” since those with mental health issues need support, and because violence can often be linked to early childhood stress and bullying.
Karen Gordon, the school nurse at South Brunswick High School, implored families to share their situations at home with school personnel “so we can better support children sitting in those classrooms dealing with what they’re dealing with.”
During the forum, officials did not address strengthening gun laws, directing residents to their legislators.
Hayducka did report that any resident must submit an application to the police department when registering a firearm. He said the department approves 300-400 applications each year. He said there are mental and criminal background checks conducted, and that applications can be and are rejected.
If a person owning a firearm is involved in, for example, a domestic violence call, police are aware of the possibility of a weapon being present.
“If we have reason to believe there is a concern or danger, we have a flag that will pop up,” Hayducka said.
Concerned residents also mentioned the potential for a student to bring a weapon inside the school. Parents asked for measures such as metal detectors at each school, an app that students can communicate potential threats anonymously or providing handouts with drill information to students on the first day of school.
Also at the beckoning of parents, Feder said he will look into soft targets such as school buses, recess areas, after school and weekend activities, and arrival and dismissal, to make sure no one is vulnerable.
“We are very cognizant of large crowds. It’s always a concern of ours,” Hayducka said.
Feder said he will also evaluate substitute bus drivers and teachers, especially if the company is outsourced, to make sure all employees are trained in emergency situations.
He said that in terms of training for staff members across grades K-12, “as student needs differ by age, protocols are adjusted accordingly. Many things, however, remain similar in expectations and systems.”
Students and teachers also addressed the panel to ask for more training of their own.
Raymond Quinones, a Social Studies teacher at South Brunswick High School, said he needs to be more prepared for the “what if” situations.
“I don’t feel that I’m 100 percent ready to make the right choice, if there is the right choice,” he said.
In response to a student mentioning that first aid training could help save lives in an emergency, Delgado said he was taught to always wear a belt because it can be used as a tourniquet.
Police Sgt. Dave Rickle, who is the supervising school resource officer, encouraged students to join the Youth Police Academy and adults to join the Citizens Police Academy to learn more about the innerworkings of police work. Hayducka advised residents to join Nixle to receive crime and community alerts.
“We know that increasing school security is an entire community activity,” Rickle said.
March for Lives in South Brunswick will take place at 10:30 a.m. on March 10, beginning at the municipal complex on Ridge Road. Though not a political march, gun safety, school security and respect for the victims of the Parkland shooting are the impetus for the 90-minute walk.
In addition, Feder said he spoke with students who wish to participate in the national walk out on March 14, which will take place at the high school.
Contact Jennifer Amato at firstname.lastname@example.org.