WOOLWICH TWP. – On March 12, the Woolwich Township Police Department returned to the halls of Kingsway Regional High School to take over security duties again with the installation of Officer Stephen Spithaler as the School Resource Officer (SRO).
The Woolwich SRO had been a permanent part of Kingsway’s security measures for nearly two decades until budget cuts last spring forced the district to privatize this service with KD National Force Security which was a team of retired police officers.
“They (KD National) have been a wonderful addition to our district,” added Lavender, “but we still missed the liaison to local law enforcement, the presence of a uniformed officer to establish rapport with students, the regular presence of a police car patrolling our campus, and other benefits only an active police officer can provide.”
According to Woolwich Township Mayor Jordan Schlump, negotiations to bring back the Woolwich officer began even before the Parkland school shooting in Florida on Feb. 14 where a student opened fire in the school, killing 17 people. On Jan. 16 the township committee authorized Committeeman and Police Liaison Dan Battisti and Committeeman and Kingsway Liaison John Carleton to investigate returning the SRO to the school.
The first meeting took place on Feb. 15 between Carleton, Battisti, Woolwich Police Chief Richard Jaramillo, Kingsway Superintendent James Lavender, and Kingsway Board of Education President Jim Mueller. The end result was that the SRO was returned to Kingsway High School and will continue in that capacity through the end of the school year.
To get this done, Schlump said Kingsway re-evaluated its budget and agreed that they will pay $315 per day for a total of $21,105 and Woolwich Township will pay the remainder of the officer’s salary and all of his contractual benefits.
“Woolwich really worked with us,” said Kingsway Board President Jim Mueller. “They understand our financial constraints and generously discounted the expense to make this happen now.”
“SROs need to be in our schools and school security is everyone’s responsibility,” said Carleton. “The Parkland shooting reminded us of the important role police officers play in deescalating threats in our schools and how urgent this measure is at the present time,” said Battisti.
“We had little choice at the time and it was frustrating that we couldn’t rework our contract with Woolwich Township before the start of the school year,” said Lavender about removing the Woolwich SRO. “Privatizing was our last resort, otherwise we’d be forced to do without any armed security in our schools.”
The SRO will be at the high school building and the private firm will be in the middle school building.
This area is not immune to the difficulties of the rest of the country when it comes to school security. On March 11, school officials at Kingsway received a report of a Kingsway student posting an image on Snapchat of a gun and a threat referencing the Sandy Hook school shooting. This threat was investigated over that weekend and determined by the New Jersey State Police to be non-credible. A 15-year-old student was arrested and charged with creating a false public alarm.
On March 14, the Harrison Township Police Department received an anonymous tip involving a threat at the Clearview Regional High School District. The school closed its two schools for the day while law enforcement investigated the threat.
According to Lavender, since the Parkland shooting, school officials at Kingsway Regional have held several school security meetings to evaluate measures aimed at protecting students and staff from any school related security threat including an active shooter. “The district is evaluating every security measure, in cooperation with local law enforcement, from school visitor policies and facility upgrades to school resource officer needs,” he stated.
The Woolwich Township Police Department is led by Chief Richard Jaramillo, a 1986 Kingsway graduate, a veteran of the United States Navy and a former SRO. “I understand the needs at Kingsway; I know our families and will work closely with our superintendent to reestablish this program and plan to help develop a more robust school security program for the 2018-19 school year,” said Jaramillo.
According to Lavender, Kingsway and the township have long benefited from a strong relationship and have improved school security measures over the years. The police department has consulted on school security plans, assisted with crisis response training, and has weighed in on facility improvement needs.
In response to the Parkland School shooting, the district is considering a number of new measures to mitigate vulnerabilities, enhance security, improve communication and the police department will continue to be a part of those conversations.
“Sadly, we learn more from each school shooting,” lamented Lavender. “Columbine (1999), Virginia Tech (2011), Sandy Hook (2012) and now Stoneman Douglas High School teach us about potential threats and call attention to a number of warning signs we cannot afford to miss. We need to use this information to challenge current practices, evaluate resources and improve preventative measures in an effort to secure our schools as much as possible. We cannot do that without the expertise of local law enforcement,” said Lavender.
“The addition of an SRO is a step in the right direction and permits us to staff both buildings with armed officers, twice the security team we’ve ever had.”
By Karen E. Viereck, Editor/Publisher