Donegal hears options for armed school security
, n District officials requested information after Sandy Hook shootings., BY DEAN LEE EVANS, Correspondent
Donegal officials listened to a presentation outlining the pros and cons of having armed security in district schools at a recent meeting, but took no action on the issue.
The presentation, by district capital projects manager Mark Heckaman, was requested by district officials at a meeting in January -- just weeks after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn.
Heckaman offered three options March 14 that the school board could consider if it wants an armed professional in the district: a security guard, an active-duty police officer who would serve as a resource officer or a school police officer who would be someone most likely retired from active police duty.
He said the three options vary when it comes to training, annual operational costs, responsibilities to a higher authority and level of authority to pursue prosecution under the law.
Heckaman said a security guard "like you find at the mall" and usually paid at an hourly rate was not a viable option for the district.
"(Security guards) receive 40 hours of state-mandated (Act 235) training before being permitted to carry a weapon," Heckaman said.
He said school resource officers and school police officers each receive 19 weeks of law-enforcement training under state Act 120 requirements. In addition, each has the power to arrest and use any level of force required during a situation.
Heckaman said the authority that each person reports to -- and how situations are resolved -- would differ.
In Donegal's case, a school resource officer would be a sworn police officer with the Susquehanna Regional Police Department and would report to the chief of police.
He said an officer could charge a suspect and move cases along for further prosecution without input from the district.
A school police officer, on the other hand, would report only to the school's administration, allowing the district to handle criminal incidents in-house. A school police officer also could have reduced legal powers available to him.
Costs are another factor to consider.
"The costs would be higher with a school resource officer," Heckaman said.
A school resource officer through the Susquehanna Regional Police Department would cost Donegal about $64,000 a year for its share of the total $97,000 cost of an officer.
The cost to Donegal to fund a school police officer would be about $40,000, annually.
However, Donegal's liability for an in-house officer would be higher than the cost of contracting with the local police department.
Heckaman said school districts in Reading, Lancaster and York use their own police officers.
"About 180 school districts in Pennsylvania have at least one school police officer," Heckaman said.
Board member Steve Gault asked if local police would supply a replacement if a resource officer had to be in court or was out on another emergency call.
Heckaman said that would have to be dealt with in contracts with police.
Susquehanna Regional police Chief Ed Haugh was not present at the school board meeting because of a prior commitment.
Donegal Superintendent Susan Ursprung said she had informed Haugh that his presence was not required because Heckaman's presentation was informational and no official action was proposed.
Board member Patricia Post suggested that Heckaman look into a unique approach used in North Dakota, where space is set aside for satellite police stations within schools.
"There is no cost to the school, but it adds a presence," she said. "Just having that presence would be good."
One controversial issue that Heckaman did not address was armed teachers in the classroom.
During public comments after the presentation, Maytown resident Keith Vogt did broach the topic.
"We have a very valuable commodity in our schools -- they're called our students," he said.
Vogt was critical of laws that keep citizens legally permitted to carry concealed weapons off school property and out of school buildings.
"I think it is wrong," he said. "Criminals don't care about laws."
He supported policies such as those in place in Texas, where teachers and administrators have the right to carry concealed weapons in a classroom.
Board member Ronald Melleby supported Vogt's comments.
"I don't think any school district, any entity, has a right to prohibit an employee from protecting themselves," Melleby said. "At least they (an armed teacher) would be able to stay in the room and protect the kids that are whimpering behind them."
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