When Officer Michael Czarzasty assumes the mantle of school resource officer (SRO) at the beginning of the school year, he won’t just be there as a protective force cruising from building to building, waiting for something bad to happen.
Czarzasty will be deeply involved in a number of programs in all four Cinnaminson schools, explained Superintendent Salvatore Illuzzi. The officer will speak to students in physical education classes about the dangers of drugs and alcohol; he’ll be involved in the district’s character program at New Albany Elementary; and Czarzasty will be heavily involved in the district’s anti-bullying efforts—not to mention continuing his work with the D.A.R.E. program.
“To reinforce what we already do with someone from the outside, a police officer, can only help us do a better job,” Illuzzi said.
Per the terms of the district’s contract with the police department, Czarzasty will be dedicated to the schools while school is in session, the superintendent said. If he should happen to be sick, the township will do its utmost to provide a replacement.
The school district will cover the cost of bringing Czarzasty on as SRO—approximately $89,000—which, according to Illuzzi, is kind of unique.
“In this region, I’d bet we’re the only ones paying for this,” he said.
Neighboring Moorestown School District also has an SRO, which is paid for by the township.
Mayor Ben Young said the township simply can’t afford to pay—from either a financial or a manpower standpoint—for a school resource officer. The department is already understaffed, he explained.
The township once provided two resource officers to the district, up until several years ago when a budget crisis forced the township to pull first one, then both officers—one of whom was Committeeman Don Brauckmann—from the schools. The township laid off a number of officers, along with several dispatchers.
“We’ve been running with a reduced police force ever since,” said Young.
The intention is to hire a new officer in the near future, to fill the void left by Czarzasty assuming his new role as SRO, though no formal discussions to that effect have occurred, Young said. "We (couldn't) discuss something like that until you know you have a deal (with the district)."
If a new officer is hired, it would bring the department's complement of officers to 24.
In addition to Czarzasty’s presence in the schools, the district will look to further increase security by adding more surveillance cameras to the interior and exterior of all four schools.Illuzzi wouldn’t disclose the exact number or location of the cameras, but explained they will be installed over the first several weeks of the school year.