We have 100 police officers in Teaneck NJ. That's way more than we need to patrol our town and keep the law and order. And we have a peaceful town with no major problems of gangs or drugs or thefts or the like. Accordingly we have excess officers who need to work hard to find crime to justify their continued employment.
In the world after 9-11 and Boston Marathon terrorist attacks and after numerous school and workplace shootings - we have allowed out police forces to grow without much objection. We are afraid.
So when 63 seniors broke into our High School at night to carry out their annual pranks (moving desks around and writing erasable grafitti on the walls) our overstaffed police department responded with all out force. With their guns drawn, and with 17 districts from the area called as back-up, they pinned students to the floor and marched them out in manacles.
A simple icy stare from a single officer and an order of "Go home" to the kids would have sufficed. Common sense. Pranks are funny. Pranksters pose no danger to police or to the citizens of our town.
This incident grew out of an annual senior ritual that should have been known to any informed police officer and should have been expected by the police department. They acted as if they did not know.
The result. This was an angry and excessive police reaction - as close to police brutality as we have come in a long time.
And the good people of Teaneck are not afraid to say something about all of this.
The Bergen Record reported on page one that, "Teaneck council backs parents' call for leniency in charging students for high-school prank."
The Record reports now testimony at the Town Council that children were thrown to floor by police who had their guns drawn.
...County Prosecutor John Molinelli had said he would make an announcement about the charges late last week, but on Tuesday he said he had not yet made a decision. Previously, Molinelli said the 24 students who are 18 and older would likely face trespassing charges in Municipal Court. The 39 minors could have their cases heard in juvenile court in Hackensack. All 63 could face probation, community service or both, doled out on an individual basis.The overreaction by area police to year-end pranks by seniors in high school was unfortunate. There was no cause to mobilize 17 police departments to dispel a group of high school kids moving desks around as an anuual joke.
Superintendent Barbara Pinsak and high school Principal Dennis Heck told residents they met with Molinelli in Hackensack on Monday and “advocated for the kids.”
Some parents on Tuesday night described their children as “traumatized” by being “body-slammed” by police, many of them from surrounding towns responding to calls for assistance.
Jennifer Jones said her son was one of those thrown to the floor by a police officer. “He could not sleep at night,” she said. “The officer had his gun out. My son thought he was going to be shot in the head.”
Ron Cope, another parent, said his son was so shaken that “he would not even leave the house for two days.”
“The first time I saw my child after that night was right here in this courtroom,” he said, indicating the chamber that does double duty as the council’s meeting hall. “He was in manacles. We are very fortunate that only some children were slammed to the ground by police that night.”
Gervonn Rice, vice president of school board, praised the council’s resolution. She remarked that she and other board members felt punishments meted out by the school district — according to students, a four-day suspension and revocation of certain senior privileges — had been sufficient.
“We feel in terms of what we rendered, within our realm of control, that we should be able to move on,” Rice said before the meeting. “These students are very well-supported by a large community.”
I believe that it would be prudent for police to back off from this case and for the prosecutor to drop the charges.
Update: Charges downgraded for Teaneck students in high school prank.