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Brentwood schools get beefed-up security

| Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

A shiny black pistol strapped to the belt of a Brentwood school resource officer is just another tool added to help protect students and teachers.

Brentwood Borough School District officials say they always are seeking ways to improve school safety. While many districts are adding school resource officers as a way to boost security after the December massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, the school district already implemented a program more than 10 years ago.

However, in recent months, there has been additional staff training, new procedures and more resources to enhance safety in the district's four schools. The school resource officers even have been equipped with firearms.

“They have been proactive and ahead of the curve,” Elroy Elementary School Principal Amy Burch said about the administration and school resource officers. “It does give you that peace of mind.”

Joseph Kozarian, the Brentwood district's director of security and facilities, implemented a school police program in 2002. The certified police officer took classes to become trained as a school resource officer in 2004.

Kozarian now serves as the Region 3 director for the National Association of School Resource Officers, or NASRO, where he oversees operations in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware.

In Pennsylvania and nationwide, demand for NASRO's officer training programs have increased 300 percent since the Sandy Hook shooting, said Kozarian, who oversees courses in the region. The association anticipates schools across the country will add 1,000 officers to the 9,000 on duty by the end of this year, he said.

The Brentwood district added a second full-time school police officer more than five years ago, Kozarian said. Tim Butler, who now has that position, started in the district in 2008.

Both Kozarian and Butler are stationed in the Brentwood Middle/High School and administration building. Yet, they frequently visit the district's two elementary schools, where they speak during assemblies, hold contests and visit classrooms.

“They're in the building frequently to build that relationship – to let them know they're there,” Burch said. “The children aren't afraid to approach them.”

A year ago this month, Kozarian and Butler, both whom work as part-time police officers in Elizabeth Borough, began carrying firearms in schools as part of their uniform. This was more than three years in the making, Kozarian said. “If you have officers in your school and they're not carrying (a weapon), they're more of a liability,” Kozarian said.

If an incident happened in the schools and an officer was unarmed, that could lead to questions such as “What, they couldn't do anything because you didn't equip them?” Kozarian said.

The officers have formed relationships with students. They sit with them at lunch and interacting with them in the halls.

“What I like best about the SRO program is it allows police officers to develop a rapport with students,” Superintendent Ronald Dufalla said.

Administrators and Brentwood Borough police, too, have a close relationship with the school police, Brentwood Middle School Principal David Radcliffe said.

“The trust part of it is huge,” Radcliffe said. “It's really important to have the police presence in the school, but it's done in a way that it's very positive.”

Since the school resource officers have been added to Brentwood schools, there has been a decline in vandalism, smoking and drug use, Kozarian said.

“The kids have taken more pride in their school,” Kozarian said.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

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