Senate Law & Public Safety Moves Legislation Creating New Type of Law Enforcement Officer to Provide Security In Schools

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The Senate Law and Public Safety Committee approved legislation, S-86 (Bucco), which would amend current law to establish a new category of “Class Three” special law enforcement officers comprised of retired law enforcement and others who could provide security in public and nonpublic schools.

Current Law

Today, boards of education are authorized to hire law enforcement officers and public school resource officers to work in public schools within their jurisdiction pursuant to regulations of the Commissioner of Education.

In addition, current law permits two classes of officers. Class One special law enforcement officers are authorized to perform routine traffic detail, spectator control, and similar duties. They also may be empowered to issue summonses for disorderly persons offenses, but are not authorized to carry a firearm while on duty.  Class Two special law enforcement officers are empowered to exercise full police powers and perform the duties of a permanent, regularly appointed full-time police officer.  They are authorized to carry a firearm.

The Legislation

If enacted, the legislation would create a new Class Three special law enforcement officer title and authorize school districts to hire these new officers to provide school security.  Under the legislation, class three officers could be either retired police officers less than 65 years old or others. Class three officers would be solely authorized to provide security at a public or nonpublic school while on school premises during hours when the school is normally in session or when it is occupied by students or staff.  Class Three officers would also be authorized to respond to offenses or emergencies off of school grounds occurring in an officer’s presence while traveling to a school.  They could not, however, be dispatched or dedicated to any other assignment off of school property.  On school premises and while working they would be authorized to exercise full powers and duties similar to those of a permanent, regularly appointed full-time police officer while providing security.

The restrictions on carrying a firearm currently applicable to Class Two special law enforcement officers would also apply to Class Three law enforcement officers.  Specifically,  they would only be authorized to carry a firearm if they comply with the statutory requirements generally authorizing retired law enforcement officers to carry handguns, including qualifying in the use of a handgun twice a year.

In addition, the bill requires these officers to receive training, including successful completion of a training course approved by the Police Training Commission (PTC).  The bill was amended in committee to also include additional training which could include training similar to that provided to School Resource Officers.  It is important to note that the legislation specifically restricts these officers to security functions – they are not permitted to supplant law enforcement officers and public resource officers currently employed in schools.

Class Three special law enforcement officers would not be subject to the 20 hour per week limit currently applicable to Class One and Class Two special law enforcement officers.  But they would not be eligible for health care benefits or enrollment in any State administered retirement system under the bill.

Bill Idea

The idea for the bill, in part, came from recommendations made by the New Jersey Taskforce on School Security in their final report back in July.  NJPSA testified before the panel back in January of last year (NJPSA Provides Testimony to School Security Taskforce, January 15, 2015).

Committee Action

The bill, which moved at the end of the last legislative session, was unanimously approved by the  Committee.  Education stakeholders including NJPSA, NJSBA, and NJASA support the legislation, as do State PBA, FOP and Chiefs of Police.