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State Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco proposes legislation based on Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon’s Responsible School Violence Prevention, Preparation and Protection (RSVP-3) Program

New Jersey State Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco on Tuesday proposed life-saving legislation based upon Responsible School Violence Prevention, Preparation and Protection, a program developed in 2018 by Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon in collaboration with the Morris County Police Chiefs Association.

Press conference
Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon at the podium and flanked, from left, by Morris County Director of Law and Public Safety Scott DiGiralomo, Laurie Becker, director of the Morris County Division of Community and Behavioral Health Services, Butler Police Chief and President of the Morris County Chiefs of Police Association President Ciro Chimento, and former Denville Police Chief Scott Wagner.

Assemblyman Bucco’s bill – A-5242 – was announced at a news conference Tuesday at the Morris County Office of Emergency Management in Parsippany, with Sheriff Gannon, Morris County Prosecutor Fredric M. Knapp, Morris County Police Chiefs Association President, Butler Police Chief Ciro Chimento, and other law enforcement, education and mental health professional stakeholders present.

Recognizing the priority of keeping schools safe from violence and thwarting potential bloodshed in the pre-attack stage, the proposed legislation would mandate funding the necessary costs for scientifically-sound training for law enforcement, mental health professionals, teachers and other school staff and students to identify, assess and report behaviors that signal potential threats to school safety.

 

The legislation would fund a pilot RSVP-3 program specifically in the counties of Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Morris, Passaic and Union and first class cities of Newark and Jersey City – all part of a designated federal Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) zone.

“This effort here is a multidisciplinary approach to incidences of school violence,” Sheriff Gannon said.

“We all know that our most vulnerable populations are in our schools,” he said. “They’re our children, they’re our grandchildren. They’re students. They’re paraprofessionals. They’re administrators and educators. They are people who keep the lights on in the schools and they’re all near and dear to our hearts.”

Assemblyman Bucco, who co-authored legislation to allow Class III officers in schools, with his father, state Senator Tony Bucco, said: “This bill, this RSVP-3 bill, will hopefully enable us to prevent an incident from actually occurring.”

Press conference with sheriff
At the podium at a press conference on May 14, 2019, Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon with state Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco.

Referring to a study the United States Secret Service conducted of 28 mass incidents in 2017 in which at least three people were harmed, Assemblyman Bucco said:

“There are commonalities in the attackers and patterns that take place that drive the logic behind this RSVP legislation. Seventy-nine percent of the attackers made alarming comments before the attacks. Half of the attackers were motivated by overwhelming job, school or family issues,” Assemblyman Bucco said.

“More than half of the attackers had criminal, mental health or substance abuse histories. This legislation is our next logical step,” Assemblyman Bucco said.

“I’d like to thank Sheriff Gannon for bringing this to our attention and working with me on this. If we can get funding in place to get as many people trained under this program we can achieve our ultimate goal and stop the next attack before it gets started,” he said.

Prosecutor Knapp called the RSVP-3 program “pioneering.”

“It’s proactive as opposed to reactive,” Prosecutor Knapp said.
RSVP-3 was developed in Morris County in response to the Feb. 14, 2018, killings of 17 students and staff at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. With the focus on averting violence before tactical teams had to rush to schools, Sheriff Gannon and the Morris County Police Chiefs Association drew together mental health leaders, educators and law enforcement professionals.

The Morris County Board of Freeholders and UASI then each contributed $75,000, which was used to fund curriculum, authored by Sigma Threat Management Associates, on how school leaders, mental health experts and police should assess, evaluate and respond to threats to school safety. An author of the curriculum, Dr. Marisa Randazzo, in November 2018 trained 75 leaders on how to develop assessment and evaluation tools that differentiate, for example, between a child who draws a picture of a gun at school and a student whose grades are slipping and exhibits anti-social behavior or makes concerning comments.

Dr. Randazzo and Dr. Melissa Reeves, the past president of the National Association of School Psychologists and former Chairman of the NASP National School Safety and Crisis Response Committee, are scheduled to return to Morris County next week to train about 40 teachers and school staff in how to scientifically assess concerning behavior to determine whether school safety may be at risk.

Morris County Department of Law and Public Safety Director Scott DiGiralomo said police have plenty of trained officers and tactical equipment to respond to violence in schools should it erupt. But, he said, a plan for assessing behavior before it reaches a lethal level was missing before RSVP-3. Training, he said, typically focused on “after the fact scenarios.”

“The part that was missing from our model is how do we prevent it. And RSVP-3 really fills that gap,” Director DiGiralomo said. “If we prevent that incident from ever happening, we don’t have to implement all those other things we’ve trained with.”

“We really feel that the targeted violence incident with the best outcome is one that never happened. And RSVP-3 gives us that opportunity to prevent that,” Director DiGiralomo said.

Ciro Chimento, the Police Chiefs Association President, said of the proposed legislation: “When the worst-case scenario plays out within Morris County, the best kicks in from its local police departments. Officers throughout the county are the best trained within the state and the RSVP program will certainly elevate our law enforcement officers to an even higher standard.”

Morris County Director of the Division of Community and Behavioral Health Services Laurie Becker said RSVP-3 would further strengthen a solid base of mental health and intervention programs in place.

“Averting potential tragedy is what it’s all about,” Director Becker said.

Steve Forte, Superintendent of the Denville School District, said of the legislation: “The fact that everybody is involved in this, that everybody is taking it seriously, that we’ve moved past the ‘it can’t happen here,’ I think is a great, great step.”

Former Denville Police Chief Christopher Wagner, a past president of the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police, praised Assemblyman Bucco for being at the forefront of school safety issues and the partnerships between law enforcement, schools and mental health leaders.

“Shortly after 9-11 we in law enforcement talked about how we couldn’t work in silos anymore. And school security, school threat assessment, is certainly no different than that,” Wagner said.

“We have spent tens of thousands, if not millions of dollars, on training and equipment in the horrible chance we might have to respond to one of these events. It’s my hope that we can attend some training and hold training for much less money and never touch those tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment and never have to use bleeding control and never have to reunify kids,” Wagner said.

Morris County Sheriff’s Office Tactical Assets Assist At Morris County School of Technology During Lockdown Over Suspected Threat

Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon Immediately deployed the highly-trained, tactical Sheriff’s Emergency Response Team (SERT), the K-9 Section and Bomb Unit upon learning the Morris County School of Technology went into lockdown mode at 7:35 a.m. Friday, May 10, based upon what police believed at the time was a credible threat of violence targeting the Denville-based school.

Sheriff James M. Gannon at Morris County School of Technology
Denville Police Captain Jeff Tucker addresses the media on May 10, 2019, about a lockdown at the Morris County School of Technology. On the left is school Superintendent Scott Moffitt. On the right is Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon.

Denville Police at 7:35 a.m. Friday received information reporting that an act of violence was going to occur at the School of Technology, and almost simultaneously, the school itself received similar information from a second source.

As both staff and students were arriving on campus for the school day, an immediate decision to ensure the safety of the students, staff and campus was made and the school was placed on lockdown. Students and faculty on site initiated lockdown procedures by securing themselves in classrooms. All arriving students and faculty were turned away to return to their sending districts, home or to a supervised staging area to await further instructions from the school.

Sheriff Gannon immediately responded to the school on Route 53 and Morris County Sheriff’s Office Undersheriff Mark Spitzer, who oversees the Bureau of Law Enforcement, went to the area designated for parents to gather.

The Morris County Sheriff’s Office SERT team, K-9 and Bomb Unit detectives remained on the premises while a Sheriff’s Officer assisted Denville police in conducting a room by room search that lasted more than 100 minutes before the premises were deemed to be safe.

Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon
Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon addresses the media after a lockdown over a suspected threat at the Morris County School of Technology on May 10, 2019.

As soon as the school was placed in lockdown, an intensive investigation into the initial reports, which originated on the Snapchat social media platform, was conducted with the assistance of the Butler Police Department and the Passaic County Sheriff’s Department.

Authorities determined that a current threat did not exist at the Morris County School of Technology and the search concluded around 9:20 a.m., when the lockdown was lifted. School administrators determined that school would continue for the day but students were free to leave, under parental supervision.

Standing alongside Morris County School of Technology Superintendent Scott Moffitt, Denville Police Captain Jeff Tucker, Principal Lynn Jackson, and School Resource Officer Kristian Sandman, Sheriff Gannon addressed parents and students in the school cafeteria around 10:30 a.m.

“We take these incidents extremely seriously. Our most vulnerable populations are in schools. They’re our students. They’re our grandchildren. They’re our children. They’re professionals, paraprofessionals, teachers, all the people who make it work,” Sheriff Gannon said to the students and parents.

The Sheriff praised the response of the school district and the Denville Police Department to what was treated as a credible threat to the lives of students and faculty at the Morris County School of Technology.

“A threat came in this morning. It was deemed a credible threat by the police department. An unknown actor and the time of it was around 7:35, which was consistent with students arriving at the school.   There was no other decision to make than the decision that was made. And everyone stands by that,” Sheriff Gannon said.

Sheriff Gannon, in collaboration with the Morris County Chiefs of Police Association, Morris County school districts, and mental health professionals, in 2018 founded the RSVP-3 program, which stands for Responsible School Violence Prevention, Preparation, Protection.

RSVP-3’s components include tactical training for police departments so they are fully prepared to enter schools in the event of violence and developing a system of assessing threats so that none fall through the cracks. The federal Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) and the Morris County Board of Freeholders have contributed $75,000 each to the RSVP-3 program.

Also responding to the incident at the school were the Denville Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad, Denville Volunteer Fire Department Rescue Task Force, Denville Township Office of Emergency Management, New Jersey State Police, Parsippany Police Department and the Montville Township Police Department.

Morris County Sheriff’s Office Bureau of Corrections Officers Pedal To Washington, D.C. on Police Unity Tour In Honor of Fallen Officers

The 22nd annual Police Unity Tour got underway May 9, with six Morris County Sheriff’s Office Corrections Officers from the Bureau of Corrections – five pedaling – bound for the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, D.C., nearly 300 miles away.

Sheriff Gannon and the Unity Tour
Six Morris County Sheriff’s Office Bureau of Corrections Officers, Corporals and a Lieutenant set off May 9 on the four-day Police Unity Tour to Washington, D.C. in honor of fallen law enforcement officers.

Chapter 1 of the Police Unity Tour left East Hanover at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, with Bureau of Corrections Lieutenant Michael Schweizer, Corrections Corporals Bill Lanfrank and Pete Lohmus, and Corrections Officers Eric Brauner and Al Guerriero joining the pack of more than 400 high-energy bicyclists making the four-day trip out of a sense of duty to honor law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty.

Corrections Officer Frank Corrente is driving a support vehicle – a Morris County Sheriff’s Office truck – to assist riders and help repair bicycles

This year’s Police Unity Tour is the first for Lieutenant Schweizer and Officers Guerriero and Corrente, and its start coincided with Lieutenant Schweizer’s birthday.

Sheriff James M. Gannon at the Police Unity Tour
Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon gives the thumbs-up to riders in the 22nd annual Police Unity Tour in which law enforcement officers from around the country, and other countries, pedal to Washington, D.C. in honor of police officers who have died in the line of duty.

“I wouldn’t celebrate my birthday any other way. It’s going to be a good time and it’s for a good cause,” said Lieutenant Schweizer, whose wife, Heather, and parents, Howie and Jane Schweizer, saw him off in East Hanover.

Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon, Bureau of Corrections Undersheriff Alan J. Robinson, Bureau of Law Enforcement Undersheriff Mark Spitzer and nearly a dozen officers from the Bureau of Corrections were also in East Hanover to give the team a warm sendoff.

“I wish them all a safe trip and I appreciate the sense of duty they have toward all law enforcement officers who have died while serving. A tremendous event like the Police Unity Tour strengthens the bonds between officers who perform a dangerous job every day,” Sheriff Gannon said.

The first Police Unity Tour – which has grown into a large-scale event that draws about 2,500 law enforcement bicyclists to Washington, D.C. – occurred in 1997. It was started by then-Florham Park Police Patrolman Patrick Montuore, who wanted to ensure that fallen officers were not forgotten.

In memory of Florham Park Detective Francis A. Dailey and Patrolman Robert Hauptman, who were killed in a small aircraft crash in July 1975 while on a reconnaissance flight searching for a marijuana crop, the now-retired Florham Park Police Chief Montuore and 17 other bicyclists pedaled to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. in May 1997 in their honor.

The concept took hold, and 22 years later, there are 9 chapters of the Police Unity Tour and at least 2,500 members. Collectively, they have donated at least $25 million dollars to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon
Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon wishes Rockaway Township Police Officers riding in the 22nd annual Police Unity Tour to Washington, D.C. a safe trip on May 9, 2019.

Former Chief Montuore was in East Hanover Thursday for the start of Chapter 1’s trip, rallying riders and wishing them a safe journey. Other Police Unity Tour riders around the country are starting from points closer to their homes but all riders will converge on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, May 12.

The motto of the Police Unity Tour is “We Ride For Those Who Died.”

Sheriff James M. Gannon and riders in the Police Unity Tour
From left, Morris County Sheriff’s Office Bureau of Law Enforcement Undersheriff Mark Spitzer, Bureau of Corrections Captain James Janzen, Bureau of Corrections Undersheriff Alan J. Robinson, Police Unity Tour Founder and former Florham Park Police Chief Patrick Montuore, Corrections Bureau Lieutenant Michael Schweizer, Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon, Corrections Officer Al Guerriero, Corrections Corporal Bill Lanfrank, and Corrections Officer Frank Corrente at the start of the Police Unity Tour on May 9, 2019.

As riders and their support crews gathered in East Hanover, the atmosphere was full of camaraderie and embraces. Rockaway Township, Florham Park and Mount Olive Township Police Departments were among the other local law enforcement agencies with riders on the tour, and riders were escorted on their way by a convoy of 36 police motorcycles from departments in northern New Jersey.