A new bill, introduced by Assemb. Ralph Caputo (D-Belleville) requiring New Jersey schools to have a panic button to alert local authorities of potential life-threatening emergencies is working its way through the state Assembly.
Assembly bill A3691 was introduced on Monday, Jan. 14 and referred to the Assembly Education Committee. Assemblyman Patrick J. Diegnan Jr. (D-18), chairman of the Education Committee, is one of the primary sponsors of the bill.
The bill comes a month after the tragic shooting in Newtown, Conn., which left 26 people, including 20 children dead. Verona and Cedar Grove Schools have been re-evaluating their safety guidelines since the Dec. 14 shooting.
Verona Chief of Police Douglas Huber compared the panic button idea to bank alarms, which were installed in banks a number of years ago to alert police to a potential robbery.
Huber said he would need to further familiarize himself with the bill, but his first impression is that it could help response times during an emergency.
“Anything that can help response time is a good idea,” said Huber. “I'm willing to try anything to get public safety there quicker and help the schools if they are in need.”
Verona Superintendent Steven Forte said he has read about the legislation but would have to know more about it before supporting it.
“If it's something that will help with the safety and security of the schools, I would be in favor of it,” he said. “It would have to be manageable, sustainable and have benefit.”
However, Forte raised concerns about the number and locations of the “panic buttons.”
“We would have to be able to manage it,” he said. “We couldn't have a button in one location in case that area gets compromised. We also couldn't have the buttons everywhere because then they would get pushed all the time and it would be a boy-who-cried-wolf situation.”
State Sen. Joseph Pennacchio (R-26) says the “devil is in the details” and legislators need to flesh out who pays, where the panic button will be located and what the protocol is for using the button.
“I think we need to take a deep breath, take a step back and take a look at whatever we can to increase the safety of our kids,” he said. “But this is a learning environment, it's not going to be a compound and we don't want to make it prison-like, I don't want to overreact either.”
Pennacchio says he would like to hear counsel and advice from law enforcement officials before making a decision either way.
Click here for a full list of sponsors and co-sponsors of Bill A3691