The picture that comes to mind when the term “retired police officer” is mentioned might be something out of a 1980s movie: burnt out from years on patrol and seeing nothing but the negatives in human nature, the faithful servant leaves it all behind to settle somewhere tropical and do little more than watch the sun rise and set.
That’s not the case with Melissa Young, who will bring a quarter-century of experience in criminal justice and education to the halls of Haddonfield Memorial High School this year as a Class 3 Special Law Enforcement Officer.
“It’s a sign of the times; with everything that’s been going on across the country, school shootings and other incidents in public places, that it was felt wise to have some kind of police presence in the school in case, God forbid, something should happen. Nothing ever happens, but we’re not immune, unfortunately, to what’s happening at this point in time,” said Mayor Neal Rochford, commissioner for public safety.
Approved by the board of education in the spring, and authorized for approval by the board of commissioners in late August, Young will officially join the HMHS community on the first day of classes, Sept. 3. She is expected to be on duty – and armed – when classes are in session, from 7:30 a.m. until 3 p.m.
“She’s well-rounded in school facilities, she’s worked on a number of issues with the prosecutor’s office. Her whole career is centered around the youth. We thought she was the best, most well-rounded candidate. We think she’s going to do well for us,” said Haddonfield Police Chief Jason Cutler.
Young holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Rutgers University-Camden in psychology, and also spent time at the end of the academic year as a substitute teacher and teacher’s aide in Haddon Township, framing her law-enforcement journey.
“I started in July 1993, hired by Rutgers University Police in New Brunswick, and I worked there for two years. While I was employed there, I went to the Middlesex County Police Academy and graduated in December 1993. I worked in New Brunswick for another two years, then took a transfer down to Rutgers-Camden Police Department,” Young explained.
“Before I left, I was promoted to sergeant, then in August 1998, I was offered a position with the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office – and remained there for 20 years. I worked in several units, and retired Sept. 1, 2018. So that experience, plus being in the schools, is what brought me to this job. Two careers kind of came together.”
Young’s duties at the county level included investigating cases for the juvenile unit, working with Megan’s Law enforcement as well as child abuse issues.
While it has not been determined if Young will have a base of operations from within the school, for now it seems she will concentrate on establishing a presence with the student body.
“I think since it’s a new position, we’re going to kind of work as we go. But it’ll be security for the most part, she’ll be near the front office and front door in the morning probably crossing with kids in the morning, and then we’ll see what the needs of the school are, play it by ear,” Cutler said.
While district Superintendent Larry Mussoline stressed that students can and should bring any concerns about their own safety, as well as that of fellow students, to the attention of a teacher, or staff and administration, Young sees that as part of her job as well.
“Sure, that’s our job as public servants. Students are (part of) the public, and so our job is to make sure we’re there to lend a hand if that’s what needs are, or to lend an ear. Like the chief said, our number one priority and concern is safety and security of the students.”