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Retired sheriff’s officer now on duty in four Lawrence schools

Aiming to beef up security in the community’s public schools, a third Class III special law enforcement officer (SLEO) has been hired by the Lawrence Township Public Schools and Lawrence Township municipal government in a joint arrangement.

George A. Henderson Jr., who is a retired Mercer County sheriff’s officer, began work this month as a Class III officer. He is assigned to cover the Lawrenceville, Eldridge Park, Ben Franklin and Slackwood elementary schools.

Henderson retired in 2018 after a 25-year career in law enforcement. He was a youth worker and youth counselor in the New Jersey Department of Juvenile Justice for four years and then worked as a sheriff’s officer for 21 years.

Henderson served four years of active duty in the U.S. Navy and nine years in the U.S. Navy Reserve. He spent 10 years in the New Jersey Army National Guard. He retired as a staff sergeant.

“We are pleased George has joined our school resource officer and other Class III officers as part of our intensified focus on safety and security for the benefit of our students and staff,” Superintendent of Schools Ross Kasun said. “The safety of our children is our greatest responsibility.”

Henderson will spend one week at each school to become familiar with the building. There are plans to hire an additional Class III officer to cover the elementary schools. A search is underway to fill the opening.

Henderson joins Class III officers Rick Doldy and Mike Cseremsak, who are retired police officers. Doldy retired from the Lawrence Township Police Department and Cseremsak retired from the Hopewell Township Police Department.

Doldy is assigned to the Lawrence Middle School, which enrolls students in grades seven and eight, and Cseremsak is assigned to the Lawrence Intermediate School, which enrolls students in grades four through six.

In addition to the Class III officers, the Lawrence Township Police Department has assigned Police Officer Suzanne Girard to serve as the school resource officer at Lawrence High School. She is a full-time police officer.

The school resource officer position and the Class III SLEO positions were created in the school district and the township in September 2018.

Lawrence High School and Lawrence Middle School shared a school resource officer for many years, but the position was dropped for budgetary reasons in 2012, according to district administrators. The school resource officer encourages students to follow the rules and helps to promote safety at school.

The Class III SLEO is a new position that was created under legislation signed by former Gov. Chris Christie in 2016.

Class III officers are retired police officers. They wear a special uniform and carry a gun. Their role is to provide security and to be a liaison between the school administration and the police department.

Class III officers do not teach classes, they do not discipline students and they do not investigate incidents. They are hired to provide a visible presence in a school. School administrators are in charge of the building.

While some parents welcomed the school resource officer and the Class III officers when the positions were created in 2018, other parents were wary of having armed police officers in the schools.

But school district administrators said the decision to put armed police officers in the schools grew out of community discussions in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla., in February 2018.

A group of residents organized a meeting to discuss school security and school district administrators asked to be included. The Township Council was also involved in the discussions.

School district administrators said at the time that the purpose of creating the positions was to keep students and staff members safe. The administrators said having a school resource officer and Class III officers visible in the schools would likely dissuade a would-be attacker from entering a building.

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