Moorestown residents are upset after learning the police department plans to replace long-tenured School Resource Officer (SRO) Bryan Wright with a different officer at the beginning of next school year.
Wright, who is stationed at the high school but covers the entire district, has been the Moorestown School District SRO for 13 years. The current plan, according to Lt. Lee Lieber, the department’s public information officer, is for Wright to be replaced by Ptl. Don Brauckmann in September.
Lieber explained the decision is not a critique of the job Wright has done at the school district—“Bryan’s done a fine job out there”—but rather the normal course of business within the department, and a chance for Wright to advance his career.
“You don’t normally see people in that position for that long of a time,” said Lieber. “He will be given opportunities he doesn’t have now.”
Lieber said Wright had previously expressed interest in other roles within the department. However, others who have spoken with Wright since it was revealed he would be replaced claim the officer doesn’t seem to want to leave.
“He gave me no indication that he knew why this was happening or that he wanted it to happen,” said Terry Vosbikian-Testa, who has a son at the high school and another who will start as a freshman in September.
Frustrated and confused, Vosbikian-Testa created an online petition to keep Wright in the school district. As of Tuesday night, the petition had nearly 1,300 signatures.
“Bryan is a face we see and we know. There’s a comfort level we have (with him) and our children have,” she said. “I don’t understand, at a time when people are so uneasy about school security, (why they would make this change).”
Cyndi Voss, another parent with a child in the district, was also disconcerted when she heard the news of Wright’s replacement, and sent an email to nearly 200 friends, expressing her concerns and asking for them to support Wright.
In it, she wrote that, in order to do the job of a school resource officer effectively, “you need legacy, experience and you need people and processes that families, faculty and most of all our kids trust and respect. As we all know, Bryan epitomizes that. Why remove a trusted, experienced officer of the law who works with our boys at every age, coaching football and lacrosse, and volunteers his time to help our families in need during the holidays? His dedication goes beyond walking the hallways and carrying a gun.”
The issue has also spawned multiple social media campaigns over the last few days, encouraging residents to show their support for Wright.
Lieber touted Brauckmann’s experience, which includes several years with the Moorestown Police Department and 10 years with the Cinnaminson Police Department, including four years as an SRO in the Cinnaminson School District. Brauckmann is a Cinnaminson resident and a member of the township committee there—a fact that also concerned Testa and Voss, among others, who believe Moorestown’s SRO should be a Moorestonian.
Lieber stressed that the department would spend a significant amount of time transitioning Brauckmann into the new role.
“Obviously we’re taking into account the public’s concerns, and we’re looking at different ways to transition,” said Lieber.
Township manager Scott Carew met with members of the department Monday, including Police Director Harry Johnson, to discuss the situation after people began contacting the township about Wright’s removal. Carew said the township, in conjunction with police, is examining various options to address the public’s concerns, but declined to reveal details until those options have been properly vetted. He hoped to have more information later this week, and said the township would be meeting with the school board and administration to get their feedback.
Carew said he wouldn’t question the department’s logic in making the decision to replace Wright.
“They have the experience, the training and, quite frankly, the authority to make this decision,” Carew said, but added, “Could it have been handled less awkwardly? Yes.”
School district officials were also somewhat upset with the decision. School Board President Don Mishler said, “The board is perplexed, not only because of how Officer Wright has performed as the school resource officer, but also the timing (of the decision) with respect to the heightened awareness about security issues.”
Mishler said the board met with the police department on Thursday and that was the first they heard Wright was being reassigned. He said at that meeting the board “expressed vigorously” its interest in keeping Wright as SRO. Superintendent Brian Betze said the department also asked the district to reach out to Brauckmann to speak with him about its concerns.
Lieber explained the decision to replace Wright was still “in the planning stages” as of late last week, but the information got out prematurely, so the department reached out to the school district “before a lot of misinformation got out.”
For people like Voss and Vosbikian-Testa, the issue is as much about Wright being replaced as it is about the way the decision was handled.
“When it’s our kids who are going to be affected, I think transparency would have been a better way to handle it,” said Vosbikian-Testa. “It all comes down to transparency and thinking about the people who have a vested interest in this.”