There is no price tag when it comes to school safety.
That was the consensus when Washington Township police and the school district jointly decided to station officers in each of the township’s 11 school buildings via a shared-service agreement.
Police Chief Patrick Gurcsik, school Superintendent Eric Hibbs, Mayor Joann Gattinelli, Board President Carol Chila and Council President Anthony DellaPia – along with 14 School Resource Officers (SRO) – introduced the agreement on Sept. 26 in front of the high school. It takes effect this year.
“After the Texas (school) shooting in Uvalde, our New Jersey Attorney General (Matthew) Platkin issued a directive to our county prosecutors ordering increased police presence in all the schools,” Gurcsik said, referring to the 2022 mass murder at a Texas school that claimed 21 lives, 19 of them fourth grade students.
“We were ahead of the curve,” he added of the SRO agreement. “We already had police officers patrolling the schools, our officers walking the schools, and our K-9 officers walking the perimeter of the schools. This just enhances the security that we will have on site … Nothing is more important as a police administrator and with 9,000 students and staff in our schools from September to the month of June.
“This is our number-one priority.”
The SRO decision requires the assignment of one township officer at each school and two at the high school.
Gurcsik noted at the announcement of the move that school officers are trained in active- shooter response; deescalation; and immediate first aid, among other skills.
“We work tirelessly to enhance our commitment to community caretaking with a mission to keep Washington Township a safe and thriving place for all those who live, work and play here,” he said. “Building a strong relationship with our-school age residents is the first step to construct a lifelong positive view of police officers.”
Hibbs said he was beyond thrilled to have a positive working relationship with the township and police.
“This year is a landmark year for us to have a police officer in every building that we have,” he emphasized.
As far as the superintendent is concerned, the shared-service agreement “should go into perpetuity.”
“This is something we have to do for our kids and for our staff with the world we live in right now.”