All 6 Upper St. Clair schools will have armed officers this year

September 15, 2018

Hempfield School District’s chief resource officer, Len Lander, watches the hallways as students change classes at Hempfield Area High School on Friday, April 6, 2018. The school employs seven police officers as resource officers, who can perform investigations and make arrests if needed. (SHANE DUNLAP | TRIBUNE-REVIEW)

Upper St. Clair School District plans to place a full-time armed officer in each of its six schools starting this school year.

The district’s school board unanimously approved the measure and hired three officers during a meeting Wednesday, said Tina Vojtko, district spokeswoman.

District officials plan for the three new officers, who each have more than 20 years of policing experience, to join the three officers the district already employs this fall, according to a district release said.

The three officers already employed by the district were not armed, Vojtko said. This year, all six officers will be armed, but will not carry tasers.

“The safety of our students and staff is our highest priority,” School Board President Amy Billerbeck said in the release. “Those words are not merely a slogan; we live by them.”

Over the past six months, the school boards of West Jefferson Hills, North Allegheny and Plum took steps toward hiring armed officers for schools. The North Hills and Franklin Regional school boards have taken steps to create their own police forces.

The Woodland Hills School Board voted Thursday to contract officers from the Churchill and Rankin police departments. The officers will be armed, but will not carry tasers or wear police uniforms.

Schools across Pennsylvania and the country showed an increased interest in school safety after the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Between 14,000 and 20,000 resource officers are working in schools across the country, estimates the National Center for Education Statistics.

While the new Upper St. Clair officers are being trained, the district will use Allegheny County Police Department officers starting on the first day of school Monday, the release said. The district will pay the county for the officers, who will police the district until mid-September, Vojtko said. She did not know the amount.

The district is also adding 40 security cameras this fall to various school buildings, bringing the district-wide camera total to 280, the release said. All buses will also be equipped with audio and video surveillance this school year.

Upper St. Clair School District in May hired a new police chief, Sean Bryson, who previously worked for the Arlington County Police Department in Virginia for 20 years, the release said. He is an Upper St. Clair High School graduate.

“Providing an armed, highly trained school police force is widely considered best practices in school safety and security,” Bryson said in the release. “We are fortunate to be building a staff with significant experience and specialized training in law enforcement.”

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