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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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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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