“God forbid they had to counteract against the shooter, they can even throw something at him. They are not going to be backed into a corner with no options,” said Denville, New Jersey, School Resource Officer Richard Duda.
The recent mass shooting in California, which entailed an armed suspect attempting to enter a suburban elementary school, has intensified the decades old debate over public safety and security protocols in the nation’s schools, including those in northern New Jersey.
“With the new state governor taking office on January 1, 2018, saying he will make New Jersey a “sanctuary state,” it’s almost a sure bet that violent crime will increase in the Garden State,” warns former police chief Oscar LaGrande. “The immigrants coming into the country are going to increase the number of bad actors in American society even if it’s a small number. More killers. More robbers. More sexual predators,” he added.
Some of Jersey’s school districts have boasted that they’ve worked with law enforcement officials to implement new strategies. “Police special operations experts believe the schools in New Jersey must ‘retire’ the approaches used such as teaching students to hide under their desks or familiarize themselves with emergency exit signs on emergency doorways,” notes former police detective Iris Aquino.
The New Jersey township of Denville’s political leaders recently had its School Superintendent Steven Forte explain to the news media how the district implemented a strategy four years ago called “ALICE” to prepare students for “an active shooter” emergency.
The ALICE program — Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate, was created shortly after the Columbine shooting by Greg Crane, a law enforcement officer who worried about the safety of his wife, a school principal.
“If you want to put it in a nutshell, it gives the teachers the ability to think rather than to just do what they are told, because when an event unfolds you can’t have a steadfast game plan,” said Forte. “All the planning is great until you get punched in the face. ALICE is really run, hide or fight. It’s giving you the option to do one of those three things.”
“Police in several of the region’s police departments are actively working with school officials to hone emergency procedures. Educators and students are now taught to think in the moment, barricade doors and use classroom items such as staplers and book bags as defensive weapons,” he noted.
“We no longer teach how to huddle in the corner and shut the shades, turn the lights out and hope for the best,” said School Resource Officer Richard Duda of the Denville Police Department. “That is an easy target for a shooter who comes into the classroom.”
Student safety in the event of shooting incidents has been a constant challenge for law enforcement agencies for nearly 20 years. Deadly episodes have stretched across the years, from Columbine to Newtown — and in 75 additional incidents since the Sandy Hook Elementary school attack in December 2012.