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.”