Update on Recent School Security Measures in New Jersey
In the wake of the Parkland High School shooting, which took the lives of 17 students and faculty, New Jersey has re-doubled its efforts to institute additional measures to insure the safety of New Jersey public schools. Prior to Parkland, school safety has always been an area of concern, and some newer measures became effective as recently as this past January.
Among one of the newest measures is the Live Video Surveillance Law which permits a district that has its schools equipped with video surveillance live streaming equipment to have the video stream monitored by local law enforcement.1 The School Safety Specialist Law created a School Safety Specialist Academy under the Department of Education to provide a repository for best practices, training standards, and compliance for all school safety and security issues.2 For a more detailed description of these recent measures, you may consult our most recent Administrative Guide entitled “New School Safety and Security Laws Affecting Public Schools.” 3
In addition to the above, however, since Parkland, the state legislative and executive branches have taken some actions and are contemplating others. On March 26, 2018, the New Jersey Attorney General, Gurbir S. Grewal, issued a new statewide directive for law enforcement agencies who receive notice of acts of violence, including school violence, to immediately notify the county terrorism coordinator and the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, which, in turn, will notify the FBI. This directive expands the scope of matters to be reported to include “any and all threats of violence generally to any public location or mass gathering area” and threats of violence specifically to any school, workplace, house of worship, or other criminal activity related to terrorism.”4 The directive shortens the timing of such reports from 24 hours to “immediately.” The report goes to the Counter-Terrorism Watch Section of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness and to the county terrorism coordinator. The coordinator position is one that exists within each county prosecutor’s office. The immediate reporting requirement will allow for an immediate law enforcement response, if necessary.
The Senate and Assembly Education Committees are in the process of holding public hearings on issues related to school security and gun violence. In addition, the State Assembly has passed several gun-related measures that are now before the State Senate Committee for Law and Public Safety.
While the state continues to find ways to improve school security, it is always important to review existing basic regulatory requirements. District staff have specified reporting requirements that are covered in depth under the Uniform Memorandum of Agreement Between Education and Law Enforcement Officials (“MOA”).5
The MOA defines a deadly weapon as:
… any weapon or device within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 2C:39-1r or 2C:39-3. and includes any device readily capable of lethal use or of inflicting serious bodily injury, including, but not limited to, gravity knives, switchblade knives, daggers, dirks, stilettos, or other dangerous knives, blackjacks, bludgeons, metal knuckles, cesti or similar leather bands studded with metal filings or razor blades embedded in wood and any weapon or other device which projects, releases or emits tear gas or any other substance intended to produce temporary physical, discomfort or permanent injury through being vaporized or otherwise dispensed in the air (i.e., mace, pepper spray, paintball guns). Deadly weapon also means any ammunition for a firearm.
The MOA defines a firearm as:
… any firearm within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 2C:39-1f, and includes any handgun, rifle, shotgun, machine gun or automatic or semiautomatic rifle regardless of whether such firearm is operable or loaded with ammunition. The term includes “BB” and “air" guns.6
The MOA requires that, whenever school employees develop a reason to believe that: (1) a firearm has unlawfully been brought onto school grounds, (2) any student or other person is in unlawful possession of a firearm on or off school grounds, and/or (3) anyone has committed an offense while in possession of a firearm on or off school grounds, the employee must immediately notify the designated school official. The designated school official must then immediately report this to the designated law enforcement official.
School employees who seize or secure a firearm or deadly weapon must immediately notify law enforcement and continue to secure the weapon or firearm. Upon receiving a report about the existence of an unlawful firearm or deadly weapon on school grounds, or the actual or threatened use of the same, law enforcement must immediately dispatch an officer to take custody of the firearm or deadly weapon. In addition, whenever any school employee, in the course of their employment, has reason to believe that anyone has threatened, is planning or otherwise intends to cause death, serious or significant bodily to injury to another, under circumstances under which a reasonable person would believe that the person genuinely intends at some point to commit a violent act, or to carry out a threat under N.J.S.A. 6A:16-6.3(c) through (e), the employee must report the threat.
To make this and other reporting determinations, the school official is directed under the MOA to refer to the School Safety and Security Manual: Best Practices Guidelines.7 The MOA provides that the threat need not be imminent for the school official to make a report. The MOA cautions that “[t]he parties to this [MOA] Agreement understand and agree that students who make a credible threat of harm to themselves or others should be taken seriously. Accordingly, the (reporting) provisions of this paragraph shall be liberally construed with a view toward preventing future acts of violence.”8
Based on the foregoing, there is little doubt that threats of violence that come to the attention of school staff must be taken seriously and handled quickly. School administrators should work closely with their board attorneys and law enforcement any time a threat is received. In addition, it is imperative to constantly update and review board policy with school staff.
1 N.J.S.A. 18A:41-9.
2 N.J.S.A. 18A:17-43.2(a).
3 N.J.S.A. Administrative Guide, New School Safety and Security Laws Affecting Public Schools, Vol. 48, No 3 (March 2018).
7 Id.; https://www.state.nj.us/education/students/safety/schools/manual/adminproc.pdf