Morris County Police Undergo Tactical Training To Further Sheriff James M. Gannon’s R.S.V.P.-3 School Safety Program

Law enforcement officers from 20 agencies were the first to undergo rigorous training on how to neutralize active shooters under tactics developed as part of Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon’s RSVP-3 program to curb violence within schools.

Sheriff James M. Gannon at RSVP-3 training
Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon provides opening remarks at an active shooter training session for law enforcement conducted March 20 at the vacant Sacred Heart School in Rockaway.


A group of 12 tactical instructors, including Morris County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Walter Rawa, Sheriff’s Office Bureau of Corrections Sergeant John Davidek, and Sheriff’s Officer Frank Perez, on March 20 used PowerPoint, videos, and hands-on instruction which they spent months perfecting as a training tool for RSVP-3 to teach Morris County municipal police officers and Sheriff’s officers best practices in responding to active shooter incidents.

Police participate in active shooter training in Rockaway Borough
Morris County police officers train for an active shooter incident on March 20, 2019, as part of Sheriff James M. Gannon’s R.S.V.P. program to increase schools security.
Active shooter training at Sacred Heart School
Left, Randolph Police Detective Matt Pfeiffer and Morris County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Walter Rawa provide active shooter training to law enforcement officers around Morris County on March 20, 2019, at the vacant Sacred Heart School in Rockaway.

RSVP-3, which stands for Responsible School Violence Prevention, Preparation, Protection, was founded by Sheriff Gannon in collaboration with the Morris County Chiefs of Police Association immediately after the mass shooting on Feb. 14, 2018, that left 17 people dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

RSVP-3 is a multi-disciplinary approach to identifying, evaluating and responding to threats to schools, houses of worship and other institutions. RSVP-3 involves the participation of Morris County schools, superintendents, mental health experts, police and emergency services personnel, with the U.S. Secret Service and Office of Homeland Security among the agencies that provided their expertise.

Active shooter training in Rockaway Borough
Law enforcement officers participate in an active shooter training drill at the vacant Sacred Heart School in Rockaway on March 20, 2019.

The vacant Sacred Heart School on East Main Street in Rockaway – still containing boxes of children’s books, religious artifacts and sports trophies in display cases – was the venue March 20 for about 35 police officers to hone response and tactical skills they would use in an active shooter situation.

The Morris County Sheriff’s Office has a tactically-trained unit called the Sheriff’s Emergency Response Team – which regularly patrols the county and provides protection to President Donald Trump when he flies in and out of Morristown Airport – but local police are expected to be the first to respond in the event an active shooter opens fire in a school, Sheriff Gannon said.

“You’re the best and the brightest,” Sheriff Gannon told the group gathered in the gymnasium before they split into four teams to practice tactics in the school corridors under the tutelage of instructors.

Morris County Sheriff's Officer Frank Perez teaching police officers how to neutralize an active shooter
In doorway, Morris County Sheriff’s Officer Frank Perez instructs law enforcement officers on tactics to follow in the event of an active shooter in a public building.

Gannon reminded the officers they wear two hats: as guardians of the community who find missing children and help vulnerable people in need, and as warriors who won’t hesitate to put their lives in peril to save others.

“This is about accepting risks but they’re calculated risks,” Sheriff Gannon said.

“At the end of the day, when the bell rings, we want to neutralize the threat,” he said.

Sgt. Rawa, of the Sheriff’s Office, and Hanover Officer Eric Prach offered a PowerPoint presentation to the officers that stressed focus on smart movements and communication with other officers during a highly-stressful encounter with an active shooter.

Sgt. Rawa said Wednesday’s training incorporated the best techniques used by multiple special operations and military forces.

Active shooter training for police at the vacant Sacred Heart School in Rockaway
Morris County law enforcement officers gather at the vacant Sacred Heart School in Rockaway March 20 to train for active shooter incidents. The message “Cherish Your Children” is still imprinted on a wall of the school.

The law enforcement officers that participated in Wednesday’s training were from police departments and agencies that included Butler, Chester, Dover, Florham Park, Wharton, Hanover, Harding, Jefferson, Long Hill, Madison, Montville, Morris Plains, Morristown, Mount Olive, Pequannock, Randolph, Rockaway Borough, Rockaway Township and the Morris County Sheriff’s Office.

Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon Promises Muslim Community Security and Solidarity

Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon joined a throng of nearly 500 people – some Muslims he has been friends with since childhood – for prayers and a unity walk organized by the Morris County Islamic Centers in memory of the March 15 murders of worshipping Muslims at two mosques in New Zealand.

Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon addressing Jam-E-Masjid Islamic Center in Boonton
Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon addresses a gathering of Muslims and supporters of all faiths at a walk and prayer March 17 at Jam-E-Masjid Islamic Center in Boonton.

Sheriff Gannon on Sunday, March 17, was the main law enforcement speaker at the event at Jam-E-Masjid Islamic Center in Boonton, his hometown, and he reassured the crowd that his office will always be ready to protect and defend people of all faiths against acts of terrorism.

Sheriff Gannon at prayer event in Boonton
Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon at a March 17 walk and prayer solidarity event organized by Jam-E-Masjid Islamic Center in memory of Muslims killed in attacks March 15 in New Zealand

Gul B. Khan, vice president of Jam-E. Masjid Islamic Center, said Sheriff Gannon immediately deployed tactical resources to protect all mosques in Morris County during Friday prayers after hearing about the New Zealand attacks. The sheriff also directed officers to conduct extra patrols around Morris County’s Jewish houses of worship and schools.

Members of the Morris County Sheriff’s Emergency Response Team (SERT), K-9 Unit and Bomb Squad, along with Boonton police, provided a significant police presence during Sunday’s prayers and remarks within the mosque and along the walk route from the mosque past Town Hall and back. The mood of the event was upbeat, with many embraces and handshakes and signs of solidarity like one marcher’s placard that read: “I (heart) my Muslim neighbors.”

Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon in Boonton
Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon addresses a throng at Jam-E-Masjid Islamic Center gathered on March 17 in Boonton to call for peace and unity in the wake of murders of Muslims in New Zealand on March 15.

“Sheriff Gannon is like a member of our family. He’s always there for us,” said Khan.

Jam-E-Masjid Islamic Imam Wesley Lebron, who welcomed the crowd as “brethren in humanity,” said Sheriff Gannon also assured him the mosque was protected.   The sheriff issued a formal statement about the attacks:

   The savagery inflicted on people praying at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, while they were engaged in private, peaceful acts of their religious faith only heightens the resolve of the Morris County Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement agencies to protect all houses of worship, schools and institutions from acts of terrorism.

   No person – no matter the race, ethnicity or faith – should fear kneeling or bowing their head in prayer nor fear playing at school, dancing at a concert or walking on a sidewalk. Freedom to live without fear or as a target of hate is a desire we all share as people of the human race.

   As the Morris County Sheriff, I join the Morris County Islamic Centers in standing up for peace and denouncing the unforgiveable hatred that led to the murders of 50 people and wounding of at least 20 others in New Zealand.

   The Morris County Sheriff’s Office, Morris County police chiefs and the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office stand by and in front of all members of its religious communities. We are united with good people of all faiths and will continue to work relentlessly as warriors to protect the community from violence.

Morris County Sheriff Gannon at peace walk in Boonton on March 17, 2019.
Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon on the unity walk on March 17, 2019, organized in memory of Muslims murdered in New Zealand on March 15. Beside the sheriff, in white shirt, is his lifelong friend, Abdulkadir Ahmedi.

   At Sunday’s event – where Boonton Police Chief David Mayhood, Montville Police Chief Andrew Caggiano and Rockaway Borough Police Chief Conrad Pepperman also pledged continued support for the Muslim community – Sheriff Gannon asked for a moment of silence. The sheriff’s remarks were preceded by a youth reading in Arabic from the Quran, followed by a second youth translating the recitation into English.

“A moment of silence for the people of New Zealand. A moment of silence for people of the Islamic faith. A moment of silence for all people of faith. We can’t let terrorism divert us from praying to who we want to pray to. As the sheriff, as our elected officials here, as police, we’re not going to allow that,” Sheriff Gannon said.

Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon with friend Gul B. Khan.
Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon with his friend, Gul B. Khan, vice president of Jam-E-Masjid Islamic Center on March 17, 2019.

Gannon credited all law enforcement agencies in Morris County, particularly local police who know their communities, for being part of a blanket of protection against violent acts.   Sheriff Gannon praised Mount Olive Police Chief Steve Beecher for deploying extra resources to protect the mosque within that municipality.

The sheriff reassured the crowd: “I just want you to know, you’re in good shape here in Morris County.”

The 317 houses of worship within Morris County’s boundaries specifically are contained in a program under which extra resources are deployed at holiday times, occasions of special religious observances, and when people of particular faiths are targeted for violence.

“This today is about love. This today is about peace. We’re not going to let New Zealand shape us. And I’m going to ensure that. And the county prosecutor is going to ensure that. And all the elected officials here are going to ensure that. So, you’re in a good place,” Sheriff Gannon said.

Other dignitaries at the event included U.S. Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill, state Assemblyman Anthony Bucco, Morris County Freeholders John Krickus and Doug Cabana, Parsippany Mayor Michael Soriano and Boonton Mayor Matthew DiLauri.


Morris County STAR Re-Entry Simulation Illuminates Hardships Faced by Ex-Inmates

Morris County service providers, probation and police officers and high school students assumed the roles of former jail inmates Friday to experience the biases, destitution, social and emotional challenges some inmates have upon discharge back into the community.

Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon
Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon addresses the crowd gathered for STAR re-entry simulation on March 15, 2019, in which participants play the roles of former inmates trying to navigate life after release.

The re-entry simulation held at the Morris County Public Safety Academy was the first public showcasing of the Successful Transition and Re-Entry (STAR) program started in October as a collaboration between Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon and the county Office of Temporary Assistance within the Department of Human Services.

Both Sheriff Gannon and Morris County Freeholder Heather Darling noted in opening program remarks that the recidivism rate of individuals incarcerated at the Morris County Correctional Facility is about 48 percent – or 48 percent of the same individuals are rearrested and returned to jail. The rate won’t drop without meaningful programs offered to inmates, Sheriff Gannon said.

“This is a holistic approach to a population that needs our support,” he said.

STAR simulation at the Morris County Public Safety Academy
Participants in the STAR re-entry simulation are locked up in jail after failing to meet their financial and legal obligations upon release from jail.

The event, attended by more than 100 people, was organized by STAR case managers Melissa Maney and Sierra McEniry, whose office is based at the Morris County Correctional Facility.

Inmates voluntarily sign up for STAR, where they are assisted, before and after discharge, with access to medical and substance abuse recovery services, housing, Temporary Aid To Needy Families, Medicaid, SNAP, jobs, identification documents, and even Vivitrol injections to help prevent relapses to alcohol or drug dependencies.

“There’s no cookie-cutter method. We’re meeting everyone where they’re at,” McEniry said.

There are 83 current and former inmates in the STAR program in Morris County.

The simulation was facilitated by Kimberlynn Reeves of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware, an expert on re-entry programs who has worked with the New Jersey State Parole Board on conducting four of the five re-entry simulations on which the Parole Board has participated.

Sierra McEniry and Melissa Maney at the STAR office
STAR program Case Managers Sierra McEniry and Melissa Maney at their office in the Morris County Correctional Facility.

“We look to hold re-entry simulations in jurisdictions like Morris County that are very progressive and engaged,” said Parole Board administrative analyst Sherry Sandler. “We’re all re-entry stakeholders as citizens and residents of the state.”

STAR client Michael Lester, who spent several months in the Morris County Correctional Facility for his third drunken driving offense, shared a bit of his story with the crowd. He said his first DWI occurred 10 years ago after his wife died and he got another DWI charge for riding an electric bicycle while intoxicated.

Lester said he saw participants laughing and enjoying the simulation but his incarceration wasn’t a joke.

“In real life, when you go to jail, you’re not laughing,” he said. He said Maney and McEniry, the STAR caseworkers, helped him receive Vivitrol, set up dental and medical appointments, and find an apartment.

Ashley Reed at STAR simulation
Ashley Reed, R, role-playing as a recently-released inmate, participates in a simulation of challenges inmates face upon return to the community.

“They’re very responsive. As a matter of fact, they’re proactive. Good energy,” Lester said.

Reeves took charge of running the simulation in which participants were given “life cards” that gave them a new identity, details of their crimes and sentences, and a schedule of obligations they had to fulfill over a four-week period, including paying probation fees, restitution to victims, undergoing urinalysis, and paying for food, rent and utilities.

Role players moved between stations manned by volunteers posing as service and medical providers, landlords, court officials, pawn shop owners, and other people a former inmate may encounter. Mirroring real life, some volunteers treated the inmate role-players rudely while others were sympathetic or lenient.

Role-players at the various stations would select cards that dictated their next step, such as appearing before a judge for failing a drug test or being forced to pay rent on a room in full or face eviction.

Morris County Sheriff’s Officers played roles too at the simulation, escorting people away from stations to “jail” in a back corner of the room for infractions that included failure to pay a probation fine or speaking disrespectfully to a judge. By the time role players had reached the fourth week of trying to meet obligations, most were in jail – a reflection, Reeves said, of how easily a former inmate can return to jail without assistance.

“I think it’s a cool experience,” said Morris Hills High School senior Francis Babe. His background was as “Wesley,” who spent 10 years in federal prison for bank robbery.

Rewaida Muheisen, who works for the Morris County Office of Temporary Assistance, said the simulation gave her a glimpse of how overwhelming life may be like for a former inmate.

“We see clients all day long and now we can see the effects of what we ask of them,” Muheisen said.

Morris County Prosecutor Fredric M. Knapp also attended the simulation, saying in opening remarks that he admires Sheriff Gannon’s initiatives to curb crime and reduce drug dependency.

“I’ve never seen innovative efforts like Sheriff Gannon has done for Morris County,” Prosecutor Knapp said.