E.B. redeploying cops to regular police work

EBHS, Churchill to share one school resource officer


East Brunswick is returning certain police officers who have worked mostly in the schools back to regular police work as a cost-saving measure.

Two police officers will be returned to regular police duty, and the township will also bring an end to its DARE program, according to Mayor David Stahl. He said the moves save money because the township will not have to replace other police officers who are retiring.

A school resource officer (SRO) who has been stationed at Churchill Junior High School will be redeployed to perform other police work, and Churchill will instead share an SRO with East Brunswick High School. Stahl said another officer who was stationed mostly at the high school will also be redeployed.

Township and school officials held a meeting and agreed that Churchill did not need its own officer. The remaining officer, funded by the school district, will be primarily stationed at the high school and spend some time at Churchill, Stahl said.

The moves are among a series of budget cuts and belt-tightening measures on the part of the township. It also comes in the wake of pleas from some teachers to keep the SRO at Churchill. Several teachers had argued at a recent Township Council meeting that the SRO at Churchill had become a positive influence on students, counseling and befriending them, and promoting the police department as a support system. The SROs’ purpose is to develop partnerships with staff and administrators while helping to ensure that students receive a quality education in a safe environment.

However, the township is experiencing a multimillion dollar revenue shortfall and, despite numerous budget cuts, is facing a municipal tax rate increase of 20 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

Stahl said East Brunswick, like many other towns, will end its DARE program due to budget constraints as well as studies showing that the program may not be producing the desired results.

“The efficiency of the program is just not there,” he said. Township officials have had some discussion with the school district on that matter and have decided to run other anti-drug programs, Stahl said.

“Without the DARE officer it doesn’t mean the police department won’t work collaboratively with the Board of Education to have some kind of program,” Stahl said. “But it doesn’t warrant a full-time cop.” He expects the department and school board to work on coming up with new anti-drug initiatives.

“[Police Director Barry] Roberson and the board spoke and discussed the idea of having some police programs using a different format, but without a full-time DARE officer,” he said.

The current DARE officer will go back on the beat in order to save taxpayers money, he said. Officials did not want to reduce the number of officers doing regular police work. “We are always looking to maintain the level of officers, because we do not want safety compromised,” Stahl said.

Stahl said some police officers are scheduled for promotions in July as others retire from the department. He said the township is restructuring the department’s specialized units in an effort to have as many cops on patrol as possible.

Regarding the SROs, Stahl said the changes are being made in consultation with police officials and the school principal at Churchill. Stahl said the Board of Education will ensure that the remaining officer shifts between the high school and Churchill instead of working at the high school full time.

“It will be structured differently than now,” Stahl said. “There will be a cop at Churchill at random times.”

According to the township’s website, the SRO program was created in 2002 with six officers — two each at Hammarskjold Middle School, Churchill and East Brunswick High School. This has been scaled back over the years. According to the website, PatrolmanGuy Limato has been serving as the high school’s SRO, while Patrolman Kevin Garrett worked as the SRO for Hammarskjold and Churchill. A spokesman for the police department could not be reached earlier this week to comment on which officer will remain an SRO.

Trish LaDuca, director of community relations and programs for the school district, confirmed that EBHS and Churchill each had one SRO for the school year ending this week, and said school officials understand the reasoning for the change. She said the downturn in the economy has meant that everyone must look at budget cuts.

“The district has an excellent working relationship with Director Roberson and the Department of Public Safety, and together we believe that we can make this work,” LaDuca said.