Cops in School: a new crime fighting strategy

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:17

    WEST MILFORD-Two-thirds of crime in this Highlands community is traceable to juveniles. Seeking a way to more directly influence juveniles and reduce the crime rate, two police officers are working full time in West Milford High School and Macopin Middle School. School Superintendent Robert Gilmartin says "the police commitment has been there. "I hope it keeps going throughout the school year." Lest anyone think it's unusually for juveniles to be responsible for much of the crime, Police Chief James R. Dykstra asserts: "What I'm telling you is nothing that is different than any other community. Crime starts in adolescence. Its unusual for someone in their 20s to begin being a criminal," the chief pointed out. Previously, police were only summoned to town's schools when there was a criminal violation, or to give a Drug Abuse, Resistance, Education (D.A.R.E.) Program class. That's changed with the cooperation of the school department. "The most recent wrinkle is school resource officers," says Glenn Kamp, the school system's director of education. Now police contribute to educating the students. "They're sometimes invited into class by history teachers, for instance to talk about bill of rights, drier education, or other help and safety topics, including drinking and driving. "Officers themselves will be giving classes on law-related topics. A student having trouble understanding algebraic formulas might be helped by police demonstrating the practical applications, such as measurements taken during an auto accident investigation," Kamp explained. Both receive specialized training as school-resource officers, Kamp said. Also students can get advice from police on informal basis. "Violence can be averted by a student confiding in an police officer," Kamp said. "Another aspect is the way they develop a rapport with kids." The officers spend a lot of time in the halls and cafeteria in a supervisory capacity," he said. They are able to observe potentially hazardous or illegal situations developing and head them off. "In the worst case scenario, they get involved in their police officer roles. We don't have to call police anymore they're on the premises," Kamp said, adding that officers cope with "things of a serious nature. They're not hall monitors, but only step in when there are serious problems." He identified the officers as Laura Paul, assigned to the Middle School and Detective John Calabrese in the high school. Paul is assigned to community policing, the crime prevention unit, and as a D.A.R.E. instructor. Calabrese is the youth bureau investigator. "Both are trained as resource officers and both have been D.A.R.E. officers," said Kamp. "We think they are really a perfect match for our school population." Since here start in September, "Laura has already had to get involved in an incident during a night-time activity and John, likewise at the high school got involved with an assault," the education director said. The police department has implemented a variety of youth-outreach programs in recent years. "The D.A.R.E. program is provided in the elementary schools in the sixth grade. It's a big task because we have so many schools in a large area," the police chief said. "Children then go into middle school and high school and, common-sense wise, it seem that we should continue with drug awareness training in the years when (they are) entering the drug-culture age group," said the chief. "Also, as children become tempted by drugs, or when drugs are involved. "Having trained officers in the school who also can take note of drug activity," is a plus according to Dykstra. "Police officers look at things differently than educators. We have this suspicious streak about us and investigate when something doesn't look right. Hopefully, we'll curtail some drug activity that may occur. The chief said officers in the schools can continue their normal functions by obtaining information pertaining to other cases on which they are working. In addition: "A lot of situations that occur within the school itself, including fights or other things that police are required to investigate," can be handled by the assigned officers, Dykstra stressed.. "They are right there to take the complaint, investigate and take necessary action.