file photo by Boyd Loving
the staff of the Ridgewood blog
Toms River NJ, Congressman Tom MacArthur introduced two bills and is working on another to help local schools, students, and law enforcement officials address community and school safety concerns. The bipartisan Mental Health and Public Safety Partnership Act establishes a national pilot program to place on-site social workers in qualified police departments around the country, mirroring the work being done in South Jersey. The Modern School Threat Reporting Act creates new grants for states to create a mobile application (app) that allows students and teachers to report threats to local law enforcement. This bill mirrors the state law in Florida championed by school safety advocate, Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was killed in Parkland. Mr. Pollack, founder of Americans for Children’s Lives and School Safety, has endorsed both pieces of legislation and is collaborating with MacArthur on the third.
“In many towns across the country, there is a gap between mental health and law enforcement services that needs to be filled. Fostering relationships between law enforcement officials and social workers will better serve our communities and enhance safety throughout our communities,” Congressman MacArthur said. “My home of Ocean County has already taken steps to address this need. The On P.O.I.N.T. program, which creates a partnership between Ocean Mental Health Services and the Stafford Township Police Department, has been successful in connecting local law enforcement officials with mental health professionals. Streamlining communication between these two entities will allow them to better serve communities and understand the deep-rooted causes of problems some families face at home or students face at school.”
The On P.O.I.N.T. (Proactive Outreach In Needs and Treatment) program in Ocean County provides police officers and social workers in our community the opportunity to work together to better understand how to assist families dealing with mental health related issues. The program has proven results in helping those in our community with mental health issues.
In response to the horrific shooting in Parkland, the state of Florida enacted a law creating a reporting app to allow people to anonymously report suspicious activity in schools and the community to law enforcement. MacArthur’s bill, The Modern School Threat Reporting Act, builds on these efforts and incentivizes states to create an app of their own, which has been an initiative championed by Andrew Pollack, whose daughter, Meadow, was lost on that tragic day in Parkland. The legislation requires that applications for the grant must include a plan to deter misuse of the app, including ways to prevent students from using it to bully others.
“After the tragedy in Florida, students and those in the greater Parkland community came forward about previous signs of mental instability and the intentions of the perpetrator. Creating an avenue to anonymously report threats to local law enforcement will promote community safety and may prevent another one of these horrific events from occurring,” said Congressman MacArthur. “These innovative and modern tools will help states with their specific needs and bolster ongoing efforts to secure schools and create an effective relationship between schools and law enforcement agencies.”
“After my daughter was taken from me, I made it my mission to bring people together to do more to protect our schools. I stood at The White House, in front of the world, imploring our elected leaders to work together to fix it. There have been some steps taken to make our children safer, but we need to do more. I believe that Congressman Tom MacArthur’s legislation at the federal level will help,” said Andrew Pollack, founder of Americans for Children’s Lives and School Safety. “Accountability matters, which is why the Clery Act needs to be expanded to include secondary schools receiving federal funds. Here in Florida, our leaders took action and created a suspicious activity reporting app, which is now available to students across the state. Tom’s effort to encourage every state in the nation to create apps similar to Fortify Florida is something I have been pushing for and hope to see it pass immediately. We need to think outside the box and look to successful efforts at the local level, which is exactly what the Mental Health and Public Safety Partnership Act does. By having social workers embedded in police departments, the gap between law enforcement and mental health professionals can be closed, allowing cops to be cops and social workers to address any mental health concerns that are identified. It’s working in South Jersey and it can work across the country. Congressman MacArthur hasn’t forgotten Parkland and it is refreshing to see a politician cut through the noise and focus on fixing what’s broken.”
MacArthur is also working closely with Andrew on new legislation that will expand the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, also known as the Clery Act, to high schools receiving federal funds. The Clery Act is a federal law that requires colleges and universities to maintain records of criminal activity on and around their campuses and make that information available to the community. It was named for Jeanne Clery, a 19-year-old Lehigh University student who was raped and murdered in her dorm in 1986.
“Ensuring that students, parents, and the community is made aware of criminal activity in and around our schools is another important step to improving school safety in the United States,” added MacArthur.