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Westmoreland

Hempfield Township officials discuss posting armed guard at meetings

Jacob Tierney
| Friday, Dec. 22, 2017, 4:18 p.m.
Republican Eric Nelson and Democrat Linda Iezzi engage in a town hall debate for state House District 57 on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016 at the Hempfield Township Municipal Building.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Republican Eric Nelson and Democrat Linda Iezzi engage in a town hall debate for state House District 57 on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016 at the Hempfield Township Municipal Building.

Hempfield supervisors will consider hiring armed guards to monitor government meetings.

Township manager Andrew Walz said he was asked to look into the possibility in the wake of recent mass shootings across the country — particularly the Nov. 5 church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, that left 26 dead.

“(Supervisor George Reese) has been thinking about that, and he just wanted me to dig in and get some pricing from our current security company,” Walz said.

Reese could not be reached for comment Friday, but at Wednesday's meeting he said he wanted an armed guard posted to protect the public and officials.

Some local governments, including Allegheny County Council, have security guards at their meetings. Others, such as Greensburg and Pittsburgh, regularly have their police chiefs or other officers present, often armed.

Hempfield is the largest municipality in Pennsylvania without its own police force, which has long been a subject of debate and criticism. Earlier this year, Gov. Tom Wolf proposed charging municipalities without their own police departments $25 per person.

Hempfield officials have surveyed residents twice and found they are satisfied with state police coverage, according to board Chairman Doug Weimer.

The township contracts with Centurion Protection for an unarmed security guard who patrols the township office at night. Adding an armed guard at meetings would cost about $5,000 a year, according to Walz.

The township usually holds four meetings a month — one for the planning commission, one for the zoning hearing board and two for supervisors.

All four would be guarded under Reese's proposal.

According to Weimer, the supervisors are a long way from making a decision.

“How we left it was that we're going to seek more information about that topic,” he said, adding he didn't have enough information to form an opinion.

The supervisors are expected to discuss the guard issue again at their next public work session Jan. 17.

Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6646, jtierney@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Soolseem.

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