Police Liaison for Schools

Article excerpt

In the mid-1980s, the citizens of the United States encountered a challenge never before experienced in such magnitude - drug abuse. Causing widespread damage from one border to another, this modern-day plague pushed America's social and government agencies to their limits. It also forced law enforcement agencies to reestablish priorities to address the new threat placed on public safety.

By 1987, a major influx of crack cocaine had forced the nation into a war against drugs. In fact, by 1990, drugs had successfully infiltrated many previously drag-free areas. The nation's schools, for example, have been plagued with drugs for the past several years. Local news agencies regularly report on drag-related acts of violence committed by youths in the community. Headlines such as "5th Grader Arrested on Cocaine Charges," "8th Grader Held in Knife Attack," and "Three Students Accused in School Gun Incident" have become common in nearly all communities - so common, in fact, that they rarely draw much attention. Some residents simply accept the stories as additional examples of a generation on the decline, and government reports that corroborate the connection echo their sentiments and predict a discouraging future for today's youth.(1)

Hoping to change this dim forecast and because children spend a majority of their day in school, educators have joined the fight against drugs and violence. Unfortunately, they may not have the experience necessary to accomplish this task without the help of others. Realizing this, school administrators in Lower Camden County, New Jersey, have taken a proactive approach and joined forces with local law enforcement to combat their district's drug and violence problems.

The Lower Camden County Experience

The Lower Camden County Regional High School District (LCCD) employs approximately 700 employees and has 5,100 students in the 7th through 12th grades who live in 7 municipalities in Camden County, New Jersey. This school district consists of two junior high schools, two senior high schools, and a special-needs school.

Like many areas throughout the United States, Camden County experienced an increase in violent activity during the mid-1980s that has continued into the 1990s. As violence has increased in the community, it also has increased in the schools, including those in the LCCD. Incidents of drug use, fights, and assaults have increased, forcing school officials to spend more time addressing public safety issues than educating.

In 1993, the school district hired a security consulting firm for an on-site study of its five schools. After the firm reported its findings and recommendations, the district formed a committee - which included parents, law enforcement officials, and other members of the community - to further examine the findings.

The consulting firm recommended creating a security department and assigning a police officer to each of the high schools. In 1994, the committee endorsed this idea and implemented a pilot program at one junior high school and one senior high school. The LCCD hired sworn police officers from local municipalities and reimbursed the police department for the officers' salaries and associated expenses.

The students and staff of both schools welcomed the officers, and after 4 months, the district expanded the pilot program by creating a Department of Security staffed with five commissioned police officers, including a director. The officers have full police powers, including authorization to carry firearms. The LCCD leases three of the officers from municipal police departments for the 10 months that school is in session and employs the other two officers.

The officers serve as the primary enforcement agents. …