By Cheryl Conway
Some who see him in the schools may think ‘hey isn’t that the police chief who retired this past year from the Roxbury Police Department after 32 years?’
No need to get a detective to figure it out. Former Roxbury Police Chief James Simonetti of Frelinghuysen recently began in the Roxbury School District as the Director of Security. His first day at his new post was Tues., Oct. 4.
After spending more than three decades working for the Roxbury Police Dept., in every division, from patrolman where he began in Nov. 1984, to sheriff for five years, Simonetti who grew up in Netcong, returns to Roxbury after being away for seven months. He had mixed emotions when he left law enforcement in March; he returns with a renewed energy.
“It’s a good challenge for me teaming up with Superintendent Loretta,” says Simonetti. “We can do a nice job and protect the kids.”
Before the security director position was created, there was one individual involved in technology and security. Officials decided to separate the two roles.
Roxbury Schools Superintendent Loretta Radulic explains, “The position of security director was transformed from the security technician position that we previously had in the district. The security director position encompasses many of the same elements, but includes a broader scope of security issues. With the current climate, as well as district security initiatives, we are looking to be proactive and ensure the safety of our children and the full implementation of security initiatives.”
Out of eight individuals interviewed by a panel of six for the position of security director, “Mr. Jim Simonetti was the unanimous selection,” says Radulic.
“It is a position that we regard as integral to being able to provide a safe, learning environment for our students,” says Radulic. “He brings with him a knowledge of the district and community, an ability to implement ALICE, strong interpersonal skills and a shared vision for the protection and safety of our students and staff.
We are thrilled to have him join our team and look forward to the difference he will make.”
Simonetti, 54, is happy to return to Roxbury where he had spent most of his career. He had announced his decision to retire back in January realizing “I’ve achieved all of the goals I’ve set for myself as a Roxbury police officer,” he had said then. His plan was to run for Warren County Sheriff so he filed paperwork back in January with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (NJELEC).
While he gave it his best shot during his campaign, Simonetti did not win the nomination in the June 7 primary, in which he ran against two other candidates. Retired Washington Township Police Chief James McDonald won the Republican primary by a small margin.
“It happens,” Simonetti says as to his loss. “It was a good race.”
Afterward, Simonetti kept busy working with his wife Kelly operate her non-profit organization, Antler Ridge Wildlife Sanctuary- a 120-acre preserved farm in Warren County cares for more than 1,000 sick, injured or orphaned wildlife annually.
When he heard about the director of security position in Roxbury, Simonetti knew what he wanted.
“I’m still young,” says Simonetti. “I still wanted to work. I saw it was a challenge and a need. I just like to solve problems. I’m very fortunate to have worked with Roxbury Township for so many years. I know all the players. I was excited to share my knowledge.”
While he had always been active in the schools regarding security issues while working in law enforcement, Simonetti says he wanted a larger role. He was involved in some of the school programs such as D.A.R.E., now called LEAD, and he used to teach a Cops and Shops class.
He was also instrumental in outfitting each of the seven schools in Roxbury, funded by Roxbury Rotary, with two trauma kits, a high level medical kit in times of emergency.
In his new role, “I’ll be there on a daily basis to solve their problems.”
Simonetti will work out of Roxbury High School, but will be in charge of the safety at all of the schools district-wide. His primary goal is to “Create a safe environment for the students,” he explains.
He says he will visit every school in the district, to see every child arriving and departing, to look at buildings to see how they are operated, to make sure “we’re following best practices in school safety” in regards to entranceways, visitors, secure windows and doors.
His first main priority will be to implement ALICE training district wide. His next goal will be “to make each building a safer environment for children.”
ALICE- Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate- is a training program to provide a more proactive approach to dealing with threatening situations.
Simonetti is a certified instructor trained to teach ALICE for active shooters and critical incidence. With a combined effort with the RPD, Simonetti’s first big assignment was to provide training to all faculty and teachers on Oct. 10 during Roxbury’s in-service day with a lesson plan, PowerPoint, instruction, lecture and practical exercises district-wide.
ALICE is a “new approach,” being taught throughout the nation, says Simonetti. “Years ago it was a lock down, you hid and you prayed nothing happened. It took police time to get there.” Now there is a “change in mindset. Don’t be a sitting duck. If you can get away, get away. It is no longer acceptable that you just lock down. There needs to be another approach.”
Simonetti plans to implement and share the techniques of securing a building and classrooms. Training will continue all year.
“Like any serious critical incident you have to train throughout the year with drills,” says Simonetti. He will be partnering with police for proper drilling and technique, he adds.
“The goal is to be a survivor not a victim,” says Simonetti.
“It empowers people,” adds Radulic.
Simonetti had held a two day training seminar on ALICE this past March, which is a great benefit.
“We’re very fortunate that we have close to 15 instructors in ALICE in Roxbury,” says Simonetti, “for good training.” Some of the principals, teachers, police officers and even Radulic participated.
Simonetti looks forward to working with the RPD in his new role.
“It’s nice when you know someone; you’ve worked with each other. It’s a good feeling that way.”