What to Know
- Cherry Hill high schools now have armed officers at each location.
- Superintendent Joseph Meloche says the move to arm officers is intended to protect the safety of students.
- The plan is to have additional armed officers assigned to the district's middle and elementary schools next school year.
Armed officers now monitor the hallways of two South Jersey high schools in a move the district hopes will protect students in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting.
Campus police officers at Cherry Hill’s East and West high schools — two at each — began carrying guns Monday as part of a comprehensive new security policy. The officers, hired by the district, are fully trained by the state and have previously worked for police departments outside of the school district, Cherry Hill Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Joseph Meloche said in a letter sent to parents Friday.
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School officers have been in place without weapons for the past 35 years — some carrying empty gun belts, Meloche said. Now that school officers are armed, Cherry Hill township police officers will no longer be assigned to the schools. Township officers will, however, do occasional walk-throughs of the school facilities.
“The weapon they are carrying is a 9mm Sig Sauer handgun,” Meloche said. “It's the exact same weapon as Cherry Hill Police Department.”
The arming of school officers will not only take place at the high schools but also at the district’s three middle schools and 12 elementary schools. The district recently posted five openings for school officers who will patrol these schools. The hope is to have the additional armed officers in place by next school year, Meloche said.
Township police will continue to be assigned to the middle and elementary schools until the armed school officers are hired, Meloche said.
The arming of school officers came three weeks after the district’s director of security was armed, the district said.
School officials said the arming of school officers is intended to protect the district’s 11,100-plus students.
"The safety and security of our children will always remain the primary focus of our responsibility, every day," Meloche said.
Meloche says he doesn’t think most students will immediately notice much of a difference. The officers will build a rapport and relationships with students by talking to them on a daily basis, Meloche said.
The move to arm school officers came in the wake of East students walking out of class after a history teacher was placed on administrative leave after discussing security concerns in the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people. The teacher allegedly told students something similar could happen at Cherry Hill.
The school district wouldn’t let news cameras capture the officers doing patrols and wouldn’t show any photos of the newly armed officers in the schools.
The officers will have full arresting power. The plan is to develop brighter uniforms and re-branded vehicles for the officers in time for next school year, Meloche said.