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South Hills

West Jefferson Hills adds armed officers for '18-19

| Wednesday, June 6, 2018, 6:31 p.m.

An armed police officer will be stationed at each of the five schools in the West Jefferson Hills School District in 2018-19.

Board members on May 22 approved the creation of three school police officer positions — taking the total number of police officers in the district to five.

The district — which is bolstering safety measures with access controls to its buildings, piloting a metal detector program at Thomas Jefferson High School and adding specialty locks for classroom doors — will employee a four-member school police force.

The district also partners with Pleasant Hills to place a borough officer, Ronald Porupsky, in district buildings in the borough as a school resource officer. The district has employed director of security and school police officer James Modrak since September.

“We didn't have to wake up and have to worry about being safe in school. These kids wake up everyday and see something on the news and have to worry,” Superintendent Michael Ghilani said. “Anything we can do to improve safety within our schools, we should be taking those measures, within reason, obviously, from a cost perspective.”

District leaders have been working to place an officer in every building, Ghilani said. The initial plan was to have a school resource officer from Pleasant Hills and a school resource officer from Jefferson Hills stationed in district schools, with school police stationed in the other buildings.

“Jefferson decided that they did not have an interest in helping subsidize an SRO, so as a district we decided it was in our best interest and in our kids' best interest to hire a police officer and hire three instead of two and that way next year we will have an armed police officer in every building,” Ghilani said.

A Jefferson Hills Borough spokeswoman did not respond for comment.

Ghilani said he had sought a hybrid school police — or district employed police force — and school resource officer program, where the officers are members of the borough's departments.

“Not only does it allow him to build that relationship in and out of school, but it allows him to get to know them and their families and the communities that much better,” Ghilani said. “I think that's a big advantage, not just from the communication standpoint, but from the relationship standpoint.”

In Pleasant Hills, the borough and district have a two-year agreement where the district funds 50 percent of the officer's costs when he is working in the district. The two parties are working on a new agreement, which Ghilani said he hopes will be for five years, and could include more funding from the district. Officer Porupsky will be the officer stationed at one of the two schools in Pleasant Hills in 2018-19.

The district also will seek a grant to offset costs for the school resource officer. In 2017-18, the district received a $40,000 grant to offset costs for Modrak's salary.

The school police officers hired by the district will work for 190 days, Ghilani said. All will be Act 120 certified and should have experience working with kids. The three school police officers will report to Modrak. Ultimately, safety and security is overseen by Scott Milburn, assistant to the superintendent of secondary education.

“We want people who are kid friendly, but also bring a wealth of experience in the police field,” Ghilani said.

District leaders plan to train the officers in school resource officer training, as well as keep their normal police training up to date.

Ghilani said he also plans to get the officer who is stationed at Jefferson Elementary School trained in D.A.R.E., to continue offering that program.

The district plans to create a pool of substitute officers that can be utilized for special events and evening activities, when needed.

“It's going to be better communication all around,” Ghilani said. “They're going to be able to do daily assessments of the security in those buildings and how secure those buildings are, they're going to be able to communicate with the local police forces with the activity in the community and what's going on.”

And they'll be building relationships with the students and families, he said.

“Ultimately, we're going to have someone who is armed, and with the threat of a violent attack, has the ability to stop an intruder,” he said.

Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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