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Legislation would ease contracting police for schools

by The Indiana Gazette on May 01, 2014 10:55 AM

The state Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill drafted by Sen. Don White, R-Indiana, that would give school districts the option to contract for police service as a way to improve safety in classrooms and reduce response times in the event of an emergency.

Specifically, Senate Bill 1194 would give public and nonpublic school districts in communities where police services are furnished solely by the Pennsylvania State Police the option to contract with municipal police from nearby jurisdictions to provide security as well as school resource officers in their schools.

The legislation was driven in part, White said, by the efforts of Indiana Area School District officials to arrange for Indiana Borough police to respond first to incidents reported at Indiana Area Senior High School and East Pike and Ben Franklin elementary schools, all in White Township.

“A number of schools located in municipalities covered by the PSP are geographically within a short distance of local police departments,” White said in a release. “My legislation would allow school districts to contract for those services, which will enable additional response in emergency situations, as well as the opportunity for neighboring police departments to build relationships with school personnel and students in their nearby communities.”

White calls the bill “another tool in the tool box” to help school officials respond to incidents of violence.

“What if something happens at Penns Manor or Purchase Line? How long would it take state police to react? Maybe a half hour, unless there’s a patrol car already out that way,” White said. “Coming from the barracks, it’s going to be a while. And it’s not necessarily going to help (those schools), because I don’t know how many police Clymer Borough has … but it gives them another option.”

When White introduced Senate Bill 1194 on Nov. 22 with the intent of deterring and responding to school violence, he said he never imagined that the next incident would occur April 9 at Franklin Regional High School — a school in his senatorial district.

“To be clear, had SB 1194 been enacted prior to that tragedy, it would not have prevented it. Franklin Regional School District is already very capably protected by a full-time municipal police force. The first responders who assisted at the scene did their job with the utmost thoroughness and professionalism and they certainly saved lives. I appreciate and am thankful for their service,” White said.

“However, many of our 500 school districts and many of Pennsylvania’s private schools do not have local police coverage immediately available and they would certainly benefit from the options provided by my bill,” White added.

“If somebody wants to wreak havoc in a school, they can do it. We’ve considered having metal detectors in every school to making schools hire a policeman for every school in the district. You have to take into consideration the finances … but we’re trying,” White said.

SB 1194 now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

White said he would like to see the legislation enacted before the end of June.

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