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Police presence on rise in Seneca Valley schools

| Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, 9:30 p.m.

Seneca Valley's elementary schools have increased security this school year by introducing police patrols.

Officers will spend about four hours each day in each of the district's elementary schools.

“These patrols are done at random so as not to become predictable and compromise the intent to protect,” Superintendent Tracy Vitale said in a letter to parents last week.

Zelienople police are patrolling Connoquenessing Valley Elementary School, while Cranberry police patrol Haine Elementary and Middle schools and Rowan Elementary School.

Evans City police patrol Evans City Middle and Elementary schools.

Like many districts, Seneca Valley increased security in response to December's mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

“We know crisis response in education is real, and training is vitally important,” Vitale said.

Police who patrol the schools say the effort is off to a good start.

“We are getting kids used to seeing the police. Our job is to provide security to the kids and the parents,” said James Miller, Zelienople's police chief, whose officers patrol the Connoquenessing Valley Elementary School.

Miller said that officers spend about four hours each day at the school and have access to all parts of the building.

“They are not there at the same times every day. The patrols are random. We try not to be too predictable,” Miller said.

“Nothing is 100 percent, but we think the officers are making the school more secure.”

The district's main campus continues to have a full-time school resource officer, a member of the Jackson Township Police Department.

“It is beneficial to the township and to the schools. He is good at building relationships with these kids,” said Terry Seilhamer, Jackson's police chief. “Having an officer at the school full time prevents many problems from getting bigger.”

Seilhamer said there is no one way to make schools totally safe.

“Each school district is different. Funding is a big issue. They have to look at it from a cost perspective,” he said.

The district is now constructing more secure entrances at the Seneca Valley Middle School, Seneca Valley Intermediate High School and the Seneca Valley Senior High School.

Elementary schools all have the entrances that force visitors into a school's main office and restrict access into common areas or hallways.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at rwills@tribweb.com.

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