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Blairsville-Saltsburg school board members favor armed security, want more data before voting

| Thursday, March 7, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

A straw poll of Blairsville-Saltsburg school board members during a Wednesday committee meeting showed a 5-3 majority in favor of upgrading the district's safety measures by adding armed security personnel, but the board wasn't ready to vote on three proposed options until more detailed information was available. Beverly Caranese was absent.

According to district administrators, the first option – hiring active state police troopers on overtime wages – would cost about $101,500 per officer plus round-trip mileage from the barracks to the schools.

A second option, employing off-duty deputy sheriffs – also at overtime wages – would cost between $47,000 and $57,000 per officer.

The third option would involve hiring retired state troopers at between $23,040 and $28,800 per officer. That last option would require the district to pay for training and equipment, incur additional insurance costs and contribute to the officers' retirement pension plan at the same rate as it does for other district employees.

Ryan Maher, a Burrell Township resident and state police officer in Westmoreland County who has children attending school in the district, recommended the board contract with the state police. He said the resources and training available to active state troopers exceed those available to other candidates for school resource officers, including a direct line of communication with other law enforcement and emergency management personnel.

Maher said he wasn't representing state police in his remarks, which he said were prompted by concern for his children's safety and not for any personal gain.

He said state police “have the program and the policies already in place. Everything is there, all you need to do is sign on. With any other option, you folks are going to be tasked with figuring out how to utilize them, what procedures they'll follow, what limitations they'll have, in what capacity they'll serve....”

“By contracting with (state police), the district is relieved of the burden of attempting to manage a security department or school police department,” Maher added. “The district does not need to worry if the individual they have hired has been properly screened, has met the rigorous firearms-training requirements, including qualification with the weapon being carried, or has the most recent real-time intelligence of threats.

“In the event of an active shooter or similar threat, the communication for additional police resources would be instantaneous via the (school resource officer's) police radio. In this type of emergency, when seconds count, a private security officer or some other school personnel would still be required to contact 911, which would then in turn contact (state police).”

Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2913 or greinbold@tribweb.com.

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