Plainfield Twp. police will return to Wind Gap Middle School
The public spoke loudly Wednesday night and Plainfield Township supervisors clearly got the message: Don't tell the police how to do their job, especially when it involves protecting students at Wind Gap Middle School.
More than 60 people showed up at the supervisors' meeting, including Kristin Harvey Kunsman, who unapologetically revealed she leaked the internal memo from the supervisors to the police department that fomented the controversy. "My only regret is that it didn't go national," she said.
The memo, dated March 28 and first reported on by WFMZ last week, ordered township Police Chief Dean Ceraul and the 12 officers in his department to stay away from Wind Gap Middle School, except when students are arriving or departing, or in an emergency. If they were seen at the school at any other time, they would be suspended or dismissed, the memo said.
The chief and the officers were also required to sign the memo to prove they had read it.
Wednesday night, the supervisors gamely tried to explain the two main reasons they wrote the memo -- to make sure that the police were following guidelines laid down by the supervisors last August, when they terminated the school resource officer's job as a cost-cutting move and limited the amount of time officers could spend at the middle school, and to assure that they were being kept informed about what police were doing at the school.
The overwhelming majority of people at Wednesday night's meeting weren't buying it, however. They viewed the memo as something concocted in secret by the supervisors that bullied the police department and compromised the safety of their children.
After two hours of sometimes raucous, occasionally angry debate, the supervisors unanimously rescinded the memo. Vice chairman Glenn Borger, who had one of the evening's sharpest exchanges with a woman in crowd, was the first supervisor to propose the step, saying, "I move we rescind the memo, if that's what's going to satisfy the people."
Before the vote, Chief Ceraul and supervisors chairman Randy Heard agreed to meet on a regular basis to avoid any future "miscommunication." Heard told Ceraul, "I want to be in the loop. … I want to discuss how you think and let you know how we think."
Pen Argyl Area School District Supt. William Haberl, who explained at some length to the supervisors how random visits by the township police act as a psychological deterrent to intruders, offered to take part in the meetings with Ceraul and Heard.
A handful of people were unhappy with the turn of events, none more so than former supervisor Vince Grecco, who harshly attacked Haberl.
"What has the school district done about changing school safety?" he asked the superintendent, who earlier said he remembers the date of the Columbine massacre -- April 20, 1999 -- the way most people remember the date of Pearl Harbor. "Fourteen years is plenty of time to adjust."
When Haberl didn't react, Grecco continued his tirade. "You're getting $150,000 a year, and you should be ahead of this!"
When the crowd began to jeer and shout him down, Grecco became even more infuriated. "This is disgusting! I'm outta here!" he said, storming toward an exit as the crowd applauded.
The start of the meeting was delayed by 15 minutes. Just after 7 p.m., Heard told the SRO crowd in the municipal building that the meeting was being moved to the more spacious volunteer fire company hall about a mile away.
After a caravan of cars snaked its way along Sullivan Trail and the meeting got under way, the supervisors tried to point out that paying for a school resource officer at the middle school cost the township $80,000 a year in salary and benefits, and that the school district was unable to help with enough of the cost to keep the officer in place.
Supt. Haberl dismissed the notion that the school resource officer was at the heart of the disputed memo. "The idea of the [school resource officer] came, went, died and we moved on. I thank the Plainfield supervisors of the past … but [the resource officer] went through its phase and now it's gone. … We're OK with it."
Haberl said the Sandy Hook killings last Dec. 14 changed the equation. He said he called Chief Ceraul and told him, "We've got to meet. … Everybody is on edge." Haberl said "copycats" imitating Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza were a worry. "Teachers and kids were thinking about them in the halls."
The superintendent said he and Ceraul came up with a strategy that included unscheduled walk throughs to create a "perceived police presence" that would make it "too risky for the bad guys … and they would move on."
Some supervisors said officers were spending too much time in the hallways, including Borger, who said, "We had officers living in the school. … They have a township to patrol. … The GPS shows they were there for hours at a time."
That didn't sit well with some in the crowd. One woman told the supervisors, "My kids should not be part of your personal agenda!" A man sarcastically taunted them by asking, "What, did [police officers] miss a mugging?"
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