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Ligonier Valley police chiefs share goals for 2013

| Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, 9:02 p.m.

Whether it's organizing community involvement opportunities or touring local schools, Ligonier Valley police chiefs share the same basic goal every day — to keep their communities safe.

Ligonier Township police Chief Mike Matrunics said his number one priority for 2013 is to continue working with Ligonier Valley School District officials in ensuring safe schools.

At Monday night's school board meeting, he reassured parents and community members that his department and district staff are doing everything necessary to keep kids safe.

Last spring, he, his officers and Ligonier Borough officers toured the district's three schools located in the township: Ligonier Valley High, Ligonier Middle and R.K. Mellon Elementary schools.

“We were able to pinpoint some things that might be security concerns,” Matrunics said. “I can tell you all of them have since been taken care of.”

Police and district officials attended a free class offered by state police that addressed the partnership between rural law enforcement agencies and local school systems.

Ligonier police and school officials were paired for discussion and exercises during the training.

“A lot of what was brought up at the training were things we had already discussed,” district Superintendent Chris Oldham said. “It really showed me that we already had a good relationship with the police department, and we were doing what we're supposed to be doing.”

Matrunics said many parents called him with concerns about the safety of the schools in the wake of the shooting last month when a gunman killed his mother and then went on a rampage to kill 26 students and staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., before killing himself.

“I was be able to tell them (parents) that we had already taken steps to improve school safety and that we'll continue to remain vigilant,” Matrunics said.

This year, officers have started to hold lockdown drills in the schools.

“It's gone very smoothly, but some questions arose. It was great to have an opportunity to sit down with some of the teachers to talk about making the drills more efficient and productive,” the chief said.

In addition, officers will often patrol school hallways and buildings.

St. Clair Township police Chief Mike Fusco reported to supervisors at a recent meeting that he is conducting tours of the Laurel Valley Elementary School campus to identify and improve security measures.

Ligonier Borough police Chief John Berger said he would like to increase community involvement.

“Being involved and visible in the community increases people's trust in the police,” Berger said. “It also deters crime. We are such a small town, if you commit a crime in Ligonier, there's a good chance you could get caught in the act because the officers are out in the community checking things out.”

Last year, officers spent part of 205 shifts checking businesses for unlocked doors or suspicious activity, the chief reported. Officers went out on more than 600 foot patrols.

Berger said keeping the same core of officers helps with public trust because residents see the same officers all the time.

The turnover rate for borough police officers is extremely low, which is unusual for a department of mostly part-time officers, Berger said.

The most junior officer has worked for the borough for two years.

“It's because we have a great council and a great mayor and part-timers are paid a fair wage. This is a great town to work in because we have the support of the leaders of our community to do what we need to do,” Berger said.

Berger's other priorities include staying ahead of the drug problem that's plaguing the nation and keeping up with technology and equipment to aid in the fight against crime.

New Florence police Chief Dan Colflesh, St. Clair Township police Chief Mike Fusco and Seward police Chief Robert Malnofsky did not return calls seeking comment.

Jewels Phraner is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-1218 or

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