At N.J. School District, Guards are Out, Police Officers are In

PASSAIC, N.J. – Twenty-seven school guards in the Passaic school district were recently replaced by 18 police officers. According to the board of education, the employment of the 27 full-time guards, who were assigned to the elementary, middle and high schools respectively, cost the district around $1.3 million.

Originally employing 36 guards, the board of education decided to release 27 guards, and replace them with 15 police officers, two sergeants and one lieutenant to work full time on school campuses, on Aug. 27. The cost of the 18 police officers is estimated to be around $1 million a year and should save the district approximately $300,000 annually.

But not everyone is happy with the change. While the board thinks the change will make schools safer, many disagree, including newly elected union President Robin C. Holcombe, who believes cutting the manpower on the security team will make the schools less safe. Instead of the original 36 guards monitoring the city’s 18 schools, there will only be 27, making it, as Holcombe maintains, more difficult to service all students.

Holcombe isn’t the only one who believes the schools less protected. Many believe the presence of the armed officers will create fear within the halls of the schools. And security guards have argued that unlike police officers, guards are able to search students for weapons and drugs before football games and dances because guards and school officials have more leeway with the basis of reasonable suspicion. Police officers, on the other hand, must rely on “probable cause.”

Many police advocates believe otherwise, saying the guards are not as well trained as police officers. Sworn police officers, however, have access to more information like police records, probation and crisis intervention records.  Moreover, they claim police officers will most likely be more attentive to students’ needs than security guards.

Working with students will also give police officers a better opportunity to build stronger relationships with children in the community, states Lt. Louis Gentile. And according to Superintendent Robert Holster, the police officers will make the security team more professional and build up security measures that have traditionally been lax.

Per the 2007 municipal budget, the officers’ contract will also be separate from the $462,000 the district already pays the police department for Security Watch.The decision to change security measures in Passaic comes in lieu of the department of education’s annual report showing that since the 2002-03 school year, violent incidents have dropped 50 percent from 100 violent incidents to 50 in the 2005-06 school year.

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