Teaneck Leadership Highlights Safety and Security at Schools and Houses of Worship

Sheriff’s department staff members (l-r): William Schievella, Joseph Hornyak, Brian Smith, George Buono.

Teaneck’s Deputy Mayor Elie Katz and Councilmembers Gervonn Rice and Mark Schwartz (who is also co-publisher of The Jewish Link), welcomed a standing-room-only crowd who gathered to discuss and hear presentations about safety and security in Teaneck.

Worried community members, including those who asked questions regarding active shooter situations in light of the Parkland, Florida, shooting that left 17 dead, were assured by the panel members and representatives from the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office, the Teaneck Police Department, Fire Department as well as the chief of the Bergenfield Police Department that their training in case of a dire situation in any of our schools, houses of worship or community buildings is securely in place and ongoing.

As part of the panel, Deputy Township Manager of Teaneck Dean Kazinci stated emphatically that “when we know that there is an active shooter and shots are being fired, our officers are trained to immediately enter the building. The goal is to stop casualties as quickly as possible, and only after the determination has been made that that has been done are perimeters and staging areas set up around the area.”

Valerie Vainieri Huttle, assemblywoman from Englewood, is now the new chairperson of the committee on Homeland Security and State Preparedness for the State of New Jersey. She advised the group that Governor Phil Murphy is working together with the FBI in order to guarantee the safety in our schools and houses of worship. Sheriff Mike Saudino, a 46-year veteran officer, emphasized the need, as did many other speakers, that if you “see something—say something.” Never be afraid to report anything that looks suspicious.

As one of the members of the panel said, it was because of the due diligence of a citizen in Manhattan who reported an individual who looked suspicious in a van close to Times Square that a near disaster was thwarted. Lieutenant Christopher Kurschner of the Teaneck Police Department spoke of the 15,000 students in Teaneck and the ongoing goal of keeping them safe at all times.

Lieutenant Mark Brown of the Teaneck Fire Department mentioned the training that their members, together with Hackensack and Englewood’s fire department members, had with FEMA and the importance of school safety. Whereas in the past, entrance ways to schools and houses of worship were not always as diligently looked after as perhaps they should have been, he stated that there has been a vast improvement made by every institution. Recent threats to Dumont and Bayonne High Schools have been wake-up calls to all communities that we all need to be on high alert.

Rabbi Abe Friedman, Teaneck’s police chaplain, spoke on the necessity for us all to be vigilant and, together with Katz, recalled several tragedies they had worked on together. He noted that all forces worked together, keeping in mind that the safety and honor to those who had befallen a catastrophic accident or incident would be assured. Sheriff Saudino was highly praised for his cooperation in such situations.

Prior to questions and answers, the group watched a display of the canine unit and came to understand the value of their expertise. Some dogs are trained to search for cadavers and human odors and others are bomb and drug detectors. Canine Dakota demonstrated with his officer partner how he could detect an explosive device. A simulated such device was placed in the room and the dog was brought in to find it. Although he did make a slight pause as he passed the doughnuts, he set out for the group and immediately found the simulated bomb. Once he detects it he either sits or lies down next to it.

This area has the largest SWAT team in the New Jersey area and they presented at the meeting as well. Their SWAT team truck was present for everyone to take a look and get a feel for the work they do.