PATERSON — A day after authorities locked down a city high school over a report of a gun, Paterson education officials revealed they have been struggling with a shortage of security guards and announced they would use off-duty police officers to fill the gap.
The district did not provide any details on the extent of the shortage of security guards, who are hired through a private company. Nor did officials say how many off-duty police officers they would deploy, or which schools would get the cops.
About a decade ago, the district routinely used off-duty officers to bolster school security. But gradually officials said they reduced the number of cops they deployed in schools down to a handful.
Students and staff members at John F. Kennedy High School had to go through metal detectors before entering the building on Thursday afternoon, one of several measures the district took in response to the incident the day before when officials said someone called about a gun being dropped during a fight near the campus.
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“The staff shortages that have been impacting organizations throughout the country have been impacting our district’s Security Department, but we are fortunate that our security team has been working since July to increase the number of professionals to protect our students and staff,” said Superintendent of Schools Eileen F. Shafer. “Every student and every staff member must have a safe environment when they come to school.”
Shafer said the Board of Education would vote on the plan for deploying off-duty officers at its meeting on Wednesday. Officials said retaining the cops would not increase the district’s annual security budget. The payments to the officers would be offset by savings from reduced use of private security guards, officials said.
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The district’s security chief, retired Paterson Police Lt. Dalton Price, said restorative practices would be a focus of training police officers who will work in schools.
“Uniformed officers are trained professionals who have been educated at a police academy, but the approach to doing their job in a school has to be different,” said Price. “These officers will be focused on building relationships with the students and with people throughout the school communities they serve.”
Price had said during Wednesday night’s school board meeting that there was no evidence a gun had been brought to Kennedy earlier that day. Price told the board that official got two disturbing calls on Wednesday – first one about someone having a gun near the school and then a second saying a gun was dropped and picked up during a fight near Kennedy.
District employees and students have provided Paterson Press with video recordings they said showed three violent attacks involving young people in or near the high school during the past week. One apparently showed a student repeatedly kicking another teen in the head in a Kennedy classroom last Friday, another reportedly showed a brawl on the street outside the school on Wednesday and a third allegedly depicted an attack in the hallway on Thursday.