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Butler Area schools to arm school police officers as a precaution

| Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012, 12:16 a.m.

The Butler Area School Board has authorized school police officers to carry firearms not because of any immediate threat, but as a precaution, school board President Don Pringle said Tuesday.

A dozen school district police officers should be armed within the next two or three months since the board approves final policies and procedures, he said.

“We're not making it into a prison,” Pringle said. “We're doing this for the protection of our students. We don't want to be thinking, ‘Oh, my goodness, I wish we would have.' ”

The board voted 8-1 on Monday to arm the police, with board member Jim Keffalas casting the dissenting vote.

Keffalas could not be reached on Tuesday. Superintendent Michael Strutt could not be reached.

The district isn't saying how it will deploy the armed police because of security concerns, Pringle said.There have been no immediate threats of violence, Pringle said. Incidents in the past few years included an angry parent going to a school with a gun. He said the school board began talking about the issue upon the Feb. 27 shooting spree by a student inside Chardon High School in Ohio that killed three students and wounded three.

Butler Area's school police force consists of retired state troopers.

“They have extensive training in carrying guns,” Pringle said. “They're not going to be handing guns to people like you and me; these are people who have handled guns for 20 or 30 years.”

Pittsburgh Public Schools does not arm its police officers in the schools, spokeswoman Ebony Pugh said. The School District of Philadelphia does not arm its police officers, spokesman Fernando Gallard said, but city police officers assigned to each of the 23 large neighborhood high schools in the district carry firearms.

Pringle said that the district has metal detectors at all 11 elementary schools and three secondary buildings.

The district has about 7,500 students and 1,000 staff members.

Pringle said it could cost the district less than $50,000 to put the program into place, including paying for firearms.

“It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when,” Pringle said of the possibility of violence in the schools.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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