New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D) has proposed a new safety initiative for New Jersey schools in response to recent incidents in other states.
Corzine announced the initiative, Strategic Actions for Violence Elimination (SAVE), on October 19, a few weeks after establishing a statewide School Security Task Force. According to the October 19 news release announcing the initiative, the governor will attempt to pressure President George W. Bush to encourage other governors to tighten gun laws in an attempt to eradicate them from New Jersey’s schools.
The strategy for this element of SAVE has not been revealed yet. At press time, the SAVE program was still in its initial planning stages.
Violent Incidents Elsewhere
New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness spokesman Roger Shatzkin said SAVE is a response to violent school incidents in Colorado and Pennsylvania that occurred last autumn. It builds on the work of former Gov. Richard Codey (D), New Jersey’s interim governor from 2004-2006.
“The impetus for the initiative and the task force was a combination of things,” Shatzkin said. “Governor Codey’s attempts resulted from [a] school violence incident in Russia, but it was also the Pennsylvania Amish school shooting that really brought to the fore that we need to make sure we are prepared for the worst-case scenario.
“We have had minor incidents in New Jersey, but nothing on the scale we’ve seen elsewhere,” Shatzkin said. “Those events remind us that we have to be prudent.”
SAVE proposes a multifaceted approach to school safety. Major elements include developing procedures for school lockdowns, bomb threats, and emergency evacuations, and increasing training for school resource officers and bus drivers.
Improving communication is also a goal, with a new school security Web site in the works, plus enhanced public information systems and greater coordination with law enforcement.
Shatzkin said some SAVE components are simply attempts to approach school safety differently and should not cost taxpayers more. Others–particularly those related to specifics such as emergency drills–could require legislation and, in some cases, additional funding.
“We are in the early stages now,” Shatzkin said of the task force and SAVE. “It’s too early to say [how much it might cost], but really, we are looking to do things with as little cost as possible. We want to do things differently, but with existing funds.”
Gregg M. Edwards, president of the Center for Policy Research of New Jersey, a free-market think tank, believes SAVE has promise and credits Corzine for building on Codey’s school safety work.
“The problem with school security issues is that they come and go, depending on what is happening,” Edwards explained. “The fact that Corzine brought this up a year after Codey, and Codey brought it up prior to the recent violence in Pennsylvania, is a credit to both leaders for trying to keep us on our guard.”
Gang Focus Missing
But Edwards also said SAVE is missing a major component: a plan to deal with the gangs that are particularly active in some of New Jersey’s more violent districts–Camden, Newark, and Trenton.
“Schools are a big target for gangs, a breeding ground, and that is missing from Corzine’s initiative,” Edwards explained. “It’s more focused on school officials and what they can be doing, not law enforcement. But school officials are not up to the task of fighting gangs. That’s a law enforcement issue.”
Gang prevention measures will be incorporated into the initiative over time, Shatzkin said, agreeing that the state has a serious gang problem.
“There are a number of anti-gang programs already at work in New Jersey, and we are going to try to integrate our efforts with them,” Shatzkin said. “We will be seeking potential synergies and connections, without duplicating efforts. We are scrupulously avoiding a silo approach–we do not want to look at this narrowly. One of the things inherent in the task force is a community-based approach, which takes gangs into account.”
Kate McGreevy ([email protected]) is a freelance education reporter living in Washington, DC.
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For school safety statistics and general information, visit the National School Safety Center, http://www.schoolsafety.us