In light of the recent and tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida, NJSBA has received a number of inquiries related to school safety and security. Several of these inquiries have focused specifically on the board’s authority to appoint retired police officers to serve as armed security guards in district schools. While recent events have brought this option to the forefront, it is not a new inquiry. The “governing officer” of a school, college, university or other educational institution, which in this case as it applies to public schools may be interpreted to be the board, can authorize any person with a legal permit to carry a handgun, to carry that weapon on school property (N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5). Any person carrying any firearm in or upon any part of the buildings or grounds of any school without authorization is guilty of crime of the third degree, even if they have a legal permit to carry.
Retired police officers can apply to the superintendent of the New Jersey State Police for a permit to carry a weapon (N.J.S.A. 2C:39-6) and if they meet the conditions of law, can be permitted to carry a handgun. However, retired police officers are not sworn and active duty officers and as such, a permit to carry a weapon issued by the superintendent of the state police to a retired law enforcement officer only applies to the personal use of the weapon for self-protection. The permit does not authorize the use of the weapon to enforce the law.
School Resource Officers Sworn and active duty officers who are contracted by the school as school resource officers (SROs) are covered by their assigned law enforcement office for any liability that may be incurred by the possession or use of the weapon. When the board authorizes a retired law enforcement officer with a legal permit to carry the weapon on school grounds, the board assumes all liability for the possession and/or use of the weapon. Therefore, authorizing a retired law enforcement officer to carry a weapon is a serious and perhaps risky consideration for the board. Accordingly, the board attorney and the district insurance carrier should be consulted.
Class III Officers Recent legislation created the Special Law Enforcement Officer Class III (SLEO – Class III) certification (P.L. 2016, Chapter 68). This certification allows eligible retired law enforcement officers to retain the sworn and active duty status when contracted by a school to perform the duties of a school security officer. SLEO – Class III officers have the same authority and duties as regular, full-time police officers; may carry their weapon while providing school security; and are under the authority of the local chief of police.
Safe Schools Training In addition, the legislation requires the Police Training Commission in the N.J. Division of Criminal Justice in the Department of Law and Public Safety, in consultation with the state Attorney General, to develop a training course for public school employees and safe schools resource officers assigned by a board of education to serve as a school liaison to law enforcement. This training course must be made available to any retired law enforcement officer assigned as a Class III special law enforcement officer. For boards that are interested in hiring armed security guards, opting to require these employees to have and maintain this certification helps protect from liability associated with the officer’s possession and use of the weapon.
Boards are encouraged to consult with the board attorney for additional information.
Asked & Answered is prepared by the staff of NJSBA’s Legal and Labor Relations Services Department. It reflects information, data and guidance available to NJSBA members through this important Association unit.