New Thomas Jefferson High School police officer is a familiar face
Brian Peters already was a familiar face in the West Jefferson Hills community, even before he put on a new uniform to serve as a school police officer at Thomas Jefferson High School.
Peters, 48, a resident of Pleasant Hills, has worked as an assistant coach for TJ’s varsity swim teams for the last four years. A retired state trooper, he joined West Jefferson Hills’ school police department this fall, working at the new 300,000 square foot high school alongside director of security Jim Modrak.
“He’s a great guy. He fits in really well,” Modrak said, noting another officer was needed at the new school simply because of its size. In a district where a school police officer or school resource officer is stationed at all five school buildings, the addition of Peters now allows Modrak to move between buildings to assist where needed.
Peters, who comes from a family of educators, says he’s always wanted to protect people.
Even as early as high school, he worked as a lifeguard, ready to save people in their time of need.
“I like making people feel safe or helping solve a safety issue,” he said. “Whether it be a car crash, whether it be the victim of a crime, I like to help put someone’s life — or less dramatically — put their day back together.”
Peters went on to be a “professional lifeguard,” he laughs, attending the U.S. Coast Guard Academy for four years, then spending six years on active duty.
In 1999, he started working for the Pennsylvania State Police, a job that he held for 20 years until retiring in August.
He spent much of his time with state police as a patrol officer and was a K-9 handler for eight years. He handled a lot of drug-related cases.
He tells stories about working in western Erie County when methamphetamine was being highly dealt. People often crossed the state line to get away from police, as officers in those days weren’t allowed to pursue unless it was a felony.
In the early 2000s, the state changed its law so that fleeing and eluding is a misdemeanor crime, but if you’re crossing the state line to avoid law enforcement it becomes a felony.
“That was a game-changer,” he said. “We had a lot of pursuits (in) those years.”
The most notable case that Peters was a part of was a 100 car pileup on Interstate 90. He was involved in the crash himself, along with two other troopers. The three of them had to handle the entire crash site, which included a fatality, tour buses and tractor-trailers, themselves.
“When things go wrong, I like being able to fix it – seeing a mess and knowing what to do to clean it up,” Peters said.
A dad of four, Peters wasn’t looking to stay in police work after he retired. But, this job fits him perfectly.
He’s coached swimming for nearly 30 years, never as a head coach. He likes that. His job is all working with the kids.
“I get to watch them get better,” he said. “I get to help them get better.”
This job is similar in many aspects.
He was excited to hear Principal Pete Murphy talk to the officers about his approach.
“He said, ‘Kids will be kids. Teens will be teens. They’re going to make bad decisions. They’re going to make teenage mistakes. We’ll work with them through those mistakes,’” Peters said. But the one thing Murphy said that is not to be tolerated is kids treating other kids badly.
“I’ve always coached that way,” Peters said. “To me, it’s very kid-focused.”
His main goal at TJ is to keep everyone safe.
But he also wants to be a resource to students, staff and parents. He has years of knowledge in law enforcement that he can tap into and if he doesn’t know the answer, he probably knows someone who does.
He hopes to bring a different perspective to the school.
“I’m not here to police your kids,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, there’s going to be disciplinary things we’re going to be involved in, but I’d like to focus on the resource side of it.”
He wants kids to come talk to him if they have a problem and need help. He wants to be there for teachers and parents, alike.
For senior Logan Danielson, 17, it’s nice to see an old neighbor now working to keep his school safe.
“I think it’s great that they got someone from the community. A personal connection always helps,” Danielson said, noting that he makes sure to stop and chat with the officer every day on his way into the building. “Kids always feel more willing to talk to someone you know.”