New Year Sees Increased Security at Three Schools
When students headed back to Lawrence Township Public Schools (LTPS) on September 5, 2018, a new addition at three district schools awaited them. Suzanne Girard, student resource officer (SRO), greeted Lawrence High School (LHS) students; Rick Doldy, Class III officer, was on hand at Lawrence Middle School (LMS); and Matt Nemes, Class III officer, welcomed Lawrence Intermediate School (LIS) students.
The increased security within the schools stems partly in response to increased incidents of intruders within schools nationwide and also to a request from a local group of Lawrence citizens. After the school shootings in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018, a group of Lawrence residents organized a meeting to discuss security within LTPS. Several central office administrators and Board of Education members asked to be included in the meeting to directly answer questions. The group’s general consensus was a cry for more security within the schools.
Although SROs and Class III officers have different roles, all are hired with the major focus of helping to keep students and staff safe from an outside intruder. Unlike SROs who are current police officers, Class III officers are retired law enforcement officers who previously served as fully trained, full-time officers in New Jersey (NJ). They must go through SRO required trainings. Again, their role is to be a visible presence in the schools and to help keep students and staff safe.
“The safety of our children is our greatest responsibility and we are dedicated to their well-being,” stated Superintendent Ross Kasun. “With the addition of our SRO and Class III officers, we have intensified our focus on safety and security efforts to make certain that students and staff are safe.”
LTPS district and school administrators met with Lawrence Acting Police Chief Brian Caloiaro on September 12, 2018 and continued discussion about the officers and their responsibilities. Caloiaro related Class III officers do not teach, discipline children, or investigate. Additionally he emphasized school administrators are in charge of the officers when they are in the schools.
Why hire a Class III officer rather than more SROs? Class III officers do not have the same salary as SROs and, because the Class III officers are retired, a district does not have to pay health or pension benefits.
Lawrence Town Council and the Lawrence Board of Education joined forces to find funding within their respective budgets for the new positions. Previously, SROs were in LHS and LMS until about 2012. Due to financial constraints in the township and LTPS budgets, the position was eliminated.
Class III officers are a new category of security within NJ this year and the position is still evolving. Governor Chris Christie signed legislation in November 2016 that provided for the new classification of officers. As related in the 2014 final report of the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) School Security Task Force, the legislation stemmed from feedback of two task forces convened after the December 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and a recommendation of the New Jersey State Association of the Chiefs of Police. The two task forces were the NJSBA School Security Task Force and the New Jersey School Security Task Force (NJSSTF) appointed by Gov. Chris Christie.
Meet the officers:
Rick Doldy, a Class III officer, grew up in Lawrence and is a LHS graduate. After first starting in electrical engineering, Rick changed careers, became a Lawrence police officer, and earned a BS in Homeland Security and National Preparedness. Rick has high and middle school aged children.
Suzanne Girard, an SRO, is in her 17th year as a Lawrence police officer and worked as a deputy court administrator for the Lawrence Municipal Court for 5 years prior. A few years ago, she served as an SRO at LIS and LMS. She is married to a LHS graduate and they have three children ages 11, 8, and 6.
Charles “Matt” Nemes, a Class III officer, was a police officer for 25+ years. He began on the Trenton force and then transferred to the Ewing Police Department, from which he retired in 2017. While in Trenton, Matt was part of the street crimes unit and also the SWAT team. Eventually he was transferred into the K9 unit and became a certified K9 trainer. He assisted in and trained over 200 dogs in a span of 17 years. Matt is married and has three sons, ages 23, 16 and 14.