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Fort Lee to Beef Up Police Presence in Schools, Hire Two Extra Officers

Fort Lee mayor says he scheduled a meeting about a week-and-a-half ago for Wednesday to include borough, school and police officials, and that he anticipates hiring two full-time school resource officers.

Fort Lee officials plan to meet with school and police officials Wednesday, and Mayor Mark Sokolich anticipates announcing soon after that two full-time school resource officers will be included in the next round of police hires.

Sokolich said he called the meeting about a week-and-a-half ago after consulting with Fort Lee Police Chief Keith Bendul. The mandatory meeting Wednesday afternoon will include Sokolich, Bendul, Deputy Police Chief Timothy Ford, Superintendent of Schools Steven Engravalle and other school administrators, borough administrator Peggy Thomas and Council liaisons.

“The meeting is devoted solely and exclusively to school safety,” Sokolich said, calling the likely plan to hire two additional police officers to work in the schools “an unprecedented move in Fort Lee.”

“The most officers we’ve ever had in the schools is either a part-time or one full-time,” he added.

Officials are also planning increased police presence at all school events, openings and dismissals and what Sokolich called “a protocol reestablished for emergency circumstances, prevention and response for violence in the district.”

Sokolich said that over the past few weeks, officials have been “scouring the budget” to “find room and justify” the two additional officers. He said a batch of police hires had already been planned for the Mayor and Council’s next meeting, but that number hadn’t yet been set in stone.

“It was either going to be an additional five or six officers; now it’s going to be an additional seven or eight,” Sokolich said. “Whatever number we were going to agree on I’m increasing by two because those two are going to be exclusively devoted to [the schools].”

Engravalle said Monday that school security should be a priority in the wake of the deadly school shooting in Newtown, Conn. in December, and that he would like to see a police officer in every school in the district.

“I would do everything in my power to put a police officer in each building,” Engravalle said at a special public business meeting of the Fort Lee Board of Education, his first since returning from a two-month leave of absence. “I think that’s the only way to do it.”

He also said he would reach out to Bendul the next day, but as it turned out, a meeting was already in the works.

“The safety of our children is the single most important responsibility that elected officials have, and any and all resources must be devoted to ensuring their safety,” Sokolich said. “For the safety of the children, for the piece of mind of the parents and for the wellbeing of our community as a whole.”

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Keith Jensen January 09, 2013 at 01:37 PM
Who will be footing the bill? THAT is the biggest question. Of course security is key. Ask Amtrak, if they could they'd put an armed guard or cameras on every few miles railroad. I was the Chairman of their advisory board and security was always a leading topic, but it costs money, and Amtrak does not have the organic cash flow to do so. That aside, where do we have the money to hire two additional police officers, not to mention the designated patrol car, and pension and benefits that come along with the job? These officers are earmarked solely for the schools? I doubt it, otherwise I presume that means they will have unpaid time off in the summer? If we need two more police officers I am fine with it, but don't disguise it as solely for the schools. If we are going to hire two guards solely for the schools I know plenty of able, underemployed, non-retired aged, skilled marksman who can shoot a sidearm faster than an AR-15 (because they fire the same rate as a 9mil) in the FtLee VFW & American Legion. Why not give our own a job? All that is needed is a show of force. After the active Army I was called up for the National Guard to simply be a presence on the bridges and tunnels and that worked fine. Another example is the TSA. They now have roaming patrols.Our town likes big govt. I am not for this, but why not ask our President to designate blue shirted employees to roam the school halls as they now roam outside of airports? Ask the NJEA to pay from their coffers.
Paul Umrichin January 09, 2013 at 02:12 PM
Whether or not they are qualified, having retired officers or military personnel is not what we want. If we are going to have armed "guards" then police officers are the only way to do it. They are trained and regardless of where the money comes from its ALL coming from the same tax bill you will receive at home. Since there is a 2% cap on education then having the borough are this to their budget is the smarter idea. Leaves more money for education spending by the BOE. Nothing can prevent a violent incident but having a presence in our schools will act exactly like it would be meant and that is as a deterrent. An offender will choose a school with no police vs one with police.
Zachary David January 09, 2013 at 02:52 PM
Although increased police presence provides some psychological comfort to parents, and I support it for that reason alone (at least in the short term), I don't believe it would be a meaningful deterrent. The perpetrators are mentally ill, and the large majority of recent mass murderers committed suicide. They are not likely to be deterred by the prospect of being caught or killed by a police officer.
Paul Umrichin January 09, 2013 at 03:47 PM
I can agree to a point with that. Mentally disturbed or not, a person in that state of mind is on a mission in that mission would be to harm people and then I want to harm as many people as they can. I would think that anybody who wanted to perpetrate such a crime would want to have as little interference as possible until they've accomplished her goal. I understand that nowhere is safe but to have some peace of mind in the schools by all the parents is a necessity that unfortunately is part of our society.
Howard L. Pearl January 09, 2013 at 03:52 PM
The additional officers will clearly give the community a greater sense of security regarding the children. It is true that there is no 100% deterrent to psychos, but right now the citizens need to feel safe. (At least if Fatos Bakir decides to attack the gates of School #1 with her Nissan again, the police will be present to deter her.) It would be nice if we could find a budget offset. One way might be to "retire" a few of the ever present "meter maids". While that's being done, it would be nice if the "24 hour" meters by the Fort Lee CC were "demoted" to no fees after 6 PM.
Zachary David January 09, 2013 at 04:41 PM
Another thought: wouldn't it be possible to make all entrances to schools bulletproof? I imagine that would include special locks and bullet proof glass on lower floors. That's a one time cost and could actually deter (or delay) entry more effectively than a single police officer.
Baba O'Riley January 09, 2013 at 04:46 PM
Sadly, nothing will stop a determined criminal but you need a deterent. Best bet would be to have the FLPD in each of the 7 schools / centers as mentioned (when school is in session) rotating the assigments so all patrolmen would be involded. This should not be a drain on manpower and when school is not in session they would resume their "traditional" police duties. This should also help their public perception as being a member of the community. In terms of employing American Legion and / or VFW members (from the Fort Lee posts); I do not think so as most of these guys can barely make the walk around the corner to the Municipal Building during celebrations (Memorial Day, Veteran's Day, Pearl Harbor Day,...). I know as I used to be a member of both (organizations); I am a veteran of OEF and OIF. Secondly, being in the Military and being a Civilian Police Officer are different.
Robyn Nadel January 09, 2013 at 05:16 PM
Police officers manning the schools with guns is like telling students guns are needed to protect themselves!! What kind of lesson is that?? Get the guns out of the schools and if a presence is felt to be necessary, deal with it that way! Patrolling schools with guns is asking for trouble, imo! :)
Paul Umrichin January 09, 2013 at 05:17 PM
Wow I really need to look over my comments if I use voice recognition. I apologize for my unintended grammar mistakes from using it and not proofing.
Rona January 09, 2013 at 06:21 PM
Here's a few thoughts to reduce some of the implied costs of having cops in schools. Why do we have high cost police officers standing watch over public utility or construction projects? Why not hire low cost people to act in that capacity (kind of in the same league as crossing guards). We trust them with the safety of our children why not something as simple as that? That way we could shift some of the cops existing load to the schools. 2nd maybe instead of leaving cops in a building full time they can rotate in and out in unmarked cars. Maybe some of the officers would also want to donate their time in performing these duties.
William Mays January 09, 2013 at 09:02 PM
We don't live in Harlem, we shouldn't have to have bulletproof glass. How about eliminating the root of the problem.
Big Easy January 09, 2013 at 09:31 PM
Rona, from what I understand the City doesn't pay for those officers to oversee construction projects. The company requiring the officer does (PSEG, Time Warner, Verizon, etc.). And with regards to your statement "low cost people" might I remind you that you get what you pay for. The pay for recruits in the police academy is $32,000 and the starting salary is $43,000 for newly hired officers in Fort Lee. By contrast, the NYPD pays their RECRUITS $44,000 and then $46,000 in their first year. After 5.5 years an NYPD officer can expect to be paid over $90,000 annually. A Fort Lee officer is looking at around $80,000. I don't know about you, but $10,000/yr is a big difference. Everyone believes that police officers are overpaid. And how can you expect to hire security officers that can provide the same caliber of security for students in town? The SRO also creates a relationship between youngsters and law enforcement. I believe that's a positive contribution.
William Mays January 09, 2013 at 09:45 PM
Yes, but the NYPD's pay slows after that 90k, and in a lot of precincts, they actually have to risk their lives. Its probably harder to go arrest people at a drug deal in the projects, then to detain a bunch of kids at a mansion and hold them in a van for 15 hours.
Suzanne Troya January 10, 2013 at 12:31 AM
Yes!! That's why I love this town!! That's city government taking care of their residents!! I want that cop in the school, I want the bulletproof glass!! Thank you Fort Lee!! Thank you!!
The Thorn January 10, 2013 at 01:43 AM
Do we see extra LE presence on the LIRR after one gunman open fire on bystanders?????Do we see extra LE at movie theaters???? Are there LEOs in every building at VA Tech???? Are there LEOs in Colbine????? All of a sudden one isolated incident in a school, society is acting like it's going to happen again.......teachers armed with guns, cops in schools, bulletproof glass, etc, etc. I think we are overacting. Where is the cop going to be posted in school???? Roam the halls???? Stay in the office??? Outside???? What if he/she is on the second floor, a psycho busts through the front door and opens fire. The cop is going to catch hell for not doing his/her job but yet was. The cop in a school sounds good on paper but is not practical. If you wanna post a cop at every entrance/exit then it might work. What if a psycho walks into McDonalds and opens fire? Are we going to post a LEO in every McDonalds? Mr. Mays you sound like a cop hater. You would be the first to call them for help but yet bad mouth them every chance you get. Maybe you should've been locked in the van instead since you are so obessed about the incident.
carol simon January 10, 2013 at 01:59 AM
Is this a solution or a reaction?
Rona January 10, 2013 at 03:55 AM
If your right about the starting salaries I don't see it on the Star Ledger site that shows all the town's employees (http://www.nj.com/news/bythenumbers/). And by the looks of things after 5 years things go up so most are being paid in excess of $100K. As I mentioned previously you trust your kids at intersections with crossing guards why not at these construction sites. I understand the utilities pay for the officers, but doesn't it seem like a terrible waste of manpower to have them milling about sitting in their cars or talking to the crews? Better to use them in the schools rather than have new hires. This may also all blow over at some point with respect to having armed cops in schools. After 9/11 if you recall we had armed soldiers at the G.W. Bridge with automatic weapons. Are they their any longer? I don't want the police force built up again on a whim only to have an excess of them at some point in the future. Better to hire out the security then to private firms and not have to deal with more unionized employees at the expense of taxpayers.
William Mays January 10, 2013 at 04:04 AM
I'm not a cop hater, I just don't like the Fort Lee Police Department. Mainly because of experiences that I've had with them.
Mike January 11, 2013 at 01:29 AM
RONA I dont think you do understand. The officers out with the utility companys are hired and paid for by the company, not the tax payer. If you were to get a "lower paying person" to do the job it still wouldn't free up officers for the school. They do these jobs on their own time when they are off. So if you used these officers you would be paying the overtime and now that doesn't make sense for any tax payer. So thats why your idea would not work. A lot of times there are things that are not face value as we see them. There is a lot more to it. MAYS, you are a police hater. I believe its from a situation you have with a specific officer. Thats fine but dont hate them all. I agree with THORN, you will hate them until they are the first person at your house to perform CPR on yourself, parent or child. As for NYC vs FLPD, you are correct, the crime here is nothing close to NYC, however to say FLPD dont risk their lives, TWO FORT LEE POLICE OFFICERS DIED in the line of duty. I am a doctor and live in Fort Lee. I worked on may police officer in B.C. that suffered injuries from fighting a bad guy, running to someones aid. I'm sure they were thinking of someone else's family before their and themselves. Dont be such a hater, it will eat you away inside and you wont even know it.
Mike January 11, 2013 at 01:29 AM
I dont think an officer in every school is the answer but if you did have one and they were on the 2nd floor and the nut job came in the ground floor shooting, I agree people may still get hurt. But when seconds mean life of death to a bullet, a officer upstairs can run down and shoot the threat minutes before responding police arrive and cant enter caus ethey are still trying to asses the situation and location of the nut, how many and most tactical point of entry. A officer inside would eliminate all that and speed up officers in the building. 1 second = 1 shot = 1 kill. Keep all the doors locked! Survalance cameras all around the outside of the school and hallways. A security guard monitoring the cameras during all school hrs. and a radio with direct access to fort lees 911 dispatchers. In addition have already existing officers patrol the out side of the buildings throughout the days. Have a officer stand by when kids are let in and let out. The rest of the time they can protect our streets as well. Again I agree with Thorn with all the hype being overkill. Let use our resources smarter and keep taxes down. BOE budget is already crazy as it is in every town in NJ. Out of control.
Keith Jensen January 11, 2013 at 02:54 AM
You lied. You are doing nothing to reign in taxes, yet you want to add unnecessary payroll and the pension and benefits that come along with it without a plan to pay for this service. Since we keep the budgets of the school board separate from the municipal budget, then it is up to the school to protect the welfare of the children. If, you are hiring police officers earmarked as security guards for the schools, then it should come out of the BOE budget. Since that will not be the case, let the schools hire security patrols for each school. There is plenty of money that is deducted for union fees from the teachers. These security guards will be protecting the teachers too, so let it come from their budget. If two police officers are hired to protect the 6+ schools in town (will they be protecting the private schools, if not why not?), be careful of complacency. When I was in the Army we rotated soldiers out of combat zones because of this. If two officers are assigned as security guards beware of the monotony as they wanted to be police officers not security officers. Back to the lie: If you want a plan to pay for it, or to reduce taxes, do what you promised on the record 2+ years ago. I was told by the Mayor and Council to have fair school funding passed by the BOE. I did this unanimously. Nonetheless, no action has been taken by Mayor Sokolich and the Council: http://fortlee.patch.com/articles/fort-lee-republican-state-assembly-candidate-pushes-for-fair-school-funding
William Mays January 11, 2013 at 04:36 AM
Its actually more than one situation. In general my experience with the FLPD has been bad in most of my experiences with them. The officers get paid a lot, but don't even know basic towing law. Two police officers died in the line of duty, but one of those deaths was an accident, still very tragic, but you can't use that in saying its a dangerous job. The other death, yes was terrible, but it was in the 1960s. The Department has been around what? For 100 years or so? NYPD has lost 781 officers in the line of duty. I'm not denying the fact that there are good cops in Fort Lee, but as you can see both with the van incident and my experiences, there are a lot of crappy cops too.
William Mays January 11, 2013 at 04:37 AM
That armed officer really stopped that kid from getting shot today in California.
Big Easy January 11, 2013 at 05:14 AM
One way or the other, the FLPD is losing manpower due to sheer attrition and retirements. They haven't hired an officer since 2006 despite the numerous retirements. The student resource officer concept is nothing new. The department needs to hire new officers no matter what. It seems that they're merely allocating some of this manpower to the schools in response to Newtown Massacre.
Rona January 11, 2013 at 01:22 PM
Mike then why are they using police cruisers while their off?
The Thorn January 11, 2013 at 03:39 PM
If majority of the officers are assigned to the schools, who is going to be patrolling the neighborhoods for burglars? This plan sounds good on paper but is not practical.
Baba O'Riley January 11, 2013 at 04:07 PM
This is not Newark, Paterson or Camden. Moving 6-7 officers to the schools (only when school is in session) should not impact the patrolling of Fort Lee.
Big Easy January 11, 2013 at 04:30 PM
Who on earth said the majority of the department would be assigned to schools? They're not. They're hiring more officers and planning to allocate two of them as student resource officers. Why on earth do people think this is such a bad thing? I think the city flushes money down the toilet in a myriad of other ways rather than on public safety. Let's face it. That community center was a waste. Not to mention the take home vehicles for some of our public works employees. At least the police department subsidizes the costs of their vehicles with confiscated drug money. Yep, that's right, your Fort Lee Cops are out busting drug dealers and seizing dangerous substances every day. And that keeps costs to the tax payer down.
Toni Viserto January 11, 2013 at 04:55 PM
Do you have kids in any of the Ft. Lee Schools? Probably not....
Rona January 12, 2013 at 04:31 AM
Here's what the governor thinks: http://www.nj.com/monmouth/index.ssf/2013/01/gov_christie_marlboro_mayor_differ_on_armed_police_response_to_connecticut_school_shootings.html#incart_special-report

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