Middletown ramping up police patrols in schools, will hire permanent guards next year

MIDDLETOWN - In the wake of the nation's latest mass murder of schoolchildren, township police and educators have agreed to have more police officers patrol school buildings through the end of this school year, and the district will hire armed retired cops as permanent guards for the next one.

The township will pay for the extra patrols and the new guards, known as class III special law enforcement officers, according to a May 31 letter of intent spelling out the agreement. The school board voted to approve the letter Tuesday.

The township police department immediately increased patrols in district schools, as well as at non-district schools, following the May 24 killings of 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

Police Chief R. Craig Weber made it clear at the time that "these assignments are proactive in nature and there is no credible threat to any of the schools in the township."

The May 31 letter made it clear that the larger police presence will continue until school lets out for summer.

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The township pledged to "assign a police officer to every district school at a rate of $50 per hour," according to the letter, which also indicated the township and district would later figure out an agreement to hire the class III officers at $35 an hour. The township also pledged to front "ancillary and start-up costs, which the Parties will determine how those costs will be shared."

Class III special officers are retired law enforcement officers. A law signed by former Gov. Chris Christie in 2016 allows schools in New Jersey to hire retired officers at hourly rates to work as security agents. The retired officers must be younger than 65 and carry the same authority as full-time officers, meaning they can carry guns.

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Other Jersey Shore districts already employ class IIIs. Use of the special officers saw a sharp increase, at the Shore and statewide, following another school massacre in 2018, this one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Critics have argued that cops in schools puts students in danger of entering the juvenile justice system over minor infractions or disciplinary issues that previously would have been handled within the district.

"Placing more police in schools has never been the answer to helping students feel safe, and it's certainly not the answer to tragic school shootings," the ACLU of New Jersey tweeted May 27.

Alex N. Gecan covers local news and unsolved mysteries for the Asbury Park Press. You can reach him at 732-547-1365 or agecan@gannettnj.com, or follow him on Twitter @GeeksterTweets.

This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Middletown NJ school security: More cops after Texas school shooting