Campus police officers at Cherry Hill's two public high schools began carrying weapons Monday, replacing township police officers who had been assigned to the schools following the massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Cherry Hill West and East now have two armed officers each, Superintendent Joseph Meloche said in a letter to parents. There have been campus officers at the high schools since the 1980s, but they were not authorized to carry weapons.
The school board approved a policy change last month allowing the officers to carry weapons effective Monday, the superintendent said. The district's security director has been armed since March 28, he said.
Cherry Hill police assigned an armed officer to each of the high schools on March 5 after protests led by students about security concerns in the aftermath of the February school shooting in Florida that left 17 dead. At the time, officials said the officers would remain in place until the end of the school year.
In the letter to parents on Friday, Meloche said arming campus police officers was the next step for the district, which has 19 schools and enrolls about 11,200 students. Next school year, the district plans to hire five additional campus police officers who will be assigned to the middle and elementary schools, he said.
"The safety and security of our children will always remain the primary focus of our responsibility, every day," Meloche wrote.
Police Chief William "Bud" Monaghan said two township police officers will continue to conduct random walk-throughs daily, one at each high school. Three township officers are assigned to the middle schools and four to the elementary schools, he said.
"We will still have a very visible presence," the chief said.
Monaghan said arming the campus police officers was a step in the right direction for the district. Three are retired police officers who are certified by the New Jersey Police Training Commission and undergo regular training with township police, he said. His department provided the officers with weapons, bullet-proof vests, and radio communications systems, he said.
"They're fully-sworn trained police officers, but they work for the school district," Monaghan said Monday. "From our perspective, it's extremely positive. They're more than doubling their force."