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School District Looks to Hire Security

Candace Braun

Following a recent series of violent incidents involving students at Princeton High School, the Princeton Regional School District is investigating the possibility of hiring resource officers for both the high school and John Witherspoon Middle School.

"Both schools are highly concerned with the gang-related activity that has occurred over the last several weeks," said Capt. Anthony Federico of the Borough Police.

According to school board President Anne Burns, PHS Principal Gary Snyder met with Trenton, Lawrenceville, and Princeton police prior to the new year to speak on community concerns about gang violence. A meeting to discuss adding security to the schools was moved forward to January 11, after recent reports of armed robberies in Princeton, said Ms. Burns. (See story) The subject of the meeting was also highlighted by an incident that broke out that same day on Spring Street, involving upwards of 20 black and Hispanic youths, some of whom were identified as PHS students, and one of whom was identified as a Bronx resident and a member of the Neta gang. Some of the youths used large pieces of wood and knives as weapons, while making gang signals and threats, said police.

Because of these two incidents and the Trenton shooting in December that left PHS basketball forward Richard Wilson, 17, at a Philadelphia rehab center with spinal cord injuries, Princeton officials felt it was necessary to hold a meeting regarding safety in the schools.

"Today the school board said they took a 180-degree turn from [their former] stance. They are concerned," said Mr. Federico last Tuesday, after Borough Councilman Roger Martindell questioned the district's prior claims that gang violence wasn't a concern in Princeton.

Hiring two school resource officers would cost the district approximately $160,000. Each officer would be assigned to the middle school and high school on a full-time basis, and would be instituted to create a "low key, less adversarial relationship" with the students than a security guard, said Ms. Burns. The middle school officer could also take over the DARE program, which is now taught by an area police officer.

Princeton and Hopewell Valley are the only remaining school districts in Mercer County without a resource officer in the schools. Federal money was made available to districts four years ago to hire an officer, although Ms. Burns said she is unaware if Princeton will now be able to obtain it. If not, the money would have to come out of the district's budget.

Nothing is definite right now, according to Ms. Burns, because while school administrators and both municipalities appear to be in favor of the added security, the school board has not yet discussed the matter.

"Many of them are on board with the idea, but some need more information to make a decision," she said.

This Friday, some Princeton staff members will be attending a demonstration by the state Juvenile Justice Commission Gang Management Unit on a new curriculum that is currently being piloted in Trenton, Newark, and Plainfield districts.

The district may consider implementing the program if it appears to satisfy the needs of Princeton, she said.

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