PITTSBURGH — Several weeks ago, the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese announced plans to hire armed guards to patrol their schools.
Former city of Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich was hired to build the new force.
And while schools in our area like, Hempfield and Sto-Rox have also begun using armed officers, the largest district, Pittsburgh Public, has resisted, despite some recent incidents that are raising serious safety concerns.
The Pittsburgh Public School District was the first in our area to use metal detectors.
The district also has approximately 70 security aides and roughly a dozen officers; down from 30 a decade ago. However, they do not carry guns.
Retired teacher and current school board member Sylvia Wilson wants to keep it that way.
" I’m afraid that when police officers are armed then the kids would start targeting police officers in the middle of the school, and that to me is a move dangerous situation,” Wilson said.
A recent statewide poll by Frankin & Marshall College found that 69% of registered voters in Pennsylvania favored armed offices in schools.
There’s legislation in Harrisburg that would require it.
“Resistance to this bill is not baffling. To me, it is an observation of people being naive,” said State Senator Jim Brewster, a Democrat who represents McKeesport.
Brewster broke ranks with his democratic colleagues and supported legislation that requires every school district in Pennsylvania to have at least one armed officer.
“I believe in it,” he said. “If we save one life, it is worth it.”
Brewster also addressed concerns raised by some Pittsburgh Public School Board members who said officers unfairly target minority students and create a pipeline to prison.
Brewster said the officers will be highly trained.
“If there’s full disclosure and we make that that everybody understands that they are not there to arrest people. They’re there to keep people safe,” Brewster said.
Pittsburgh Public School Board president Gene Walker said he doesn’t believe they’re ready to add armed officers.
“I think we need to talk, look at the situation, talk it over with the superintendent, and do what’s best for our kids.,” Walker said. “But at this point I don’t personally believe more guns make things safer.”
Walker said they’ve been able to handle security so far without armed officers.
A current Pittsburgh School Police officer believes it’s time for a change.
“It’s a new day and age, and I do believe it’s time,” said Toi Kennedy.
The legislation initially called for an armed officer in every school, but after concerns about cost, lawmakers revised the bill to just one in each district.
The Pittsburgh Public School District has 54 buildings, making that impossible to cover with just one officer.
Supports still believe that could be a deterrent.
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