Training sessions aim to help officers transition into schools
About 50 police officers assigned to work in schools gathered at Baldwin High School on Wednesday to learn how to apply their street skills to patrolling the hallways.
“You deal with students a lot different than you deal with criminals,” said Officer Greg Keefer, head of security at the Southmoreland School District. He worked for state police for 26 years before joining Southmoreland.
The National Association of School Resource Officers hosted the training course, intended to help officers transition to working in schools. It is one of seven such training sessions occurring across Pennsylvania this summer and one of many hosted by NASRO nationwide.
In previous years, NASRO hosted about two courses in the state, NASRO Instructor Joe Kozarian said. Kozarian is also the director of school police at the Brentwood School District, where he has worked for the past 16 years.
But as districts across the region and the country grapple with numerous high-profile school shootings, along with a spike in threats locally, Kozarian said more districts are hiring or contracting officers to work in school buildings. They're also interested in making sure those officers are trained to work with children and young adults.
The five day, 40-hour course cost $495 per officer and included sessions on preventing violence in schools, emergency operations, sex trafficking of youth as well as youth social and emotional development.
The course also included a session on social media, addressing issues like bomb or shooting threats, harassment and cyberbullying.
Officer Leann DeMuzzio is one of three new officers to join the school police force in the South Allegheny School District this school year. She said that her goal is to build relationships with students by getting to know them during lunch or at recess.
“In the school, you really are a mentor to these kids,” DeMuzzio said.
Though organizations such as NASRO and state chapters provide and advocate for officer training, such training is not mandated at the state or national level before an officer starts working in a school.
Some districts, like North Hills, are making sure all of the district's officers go through training, said Officer Dean Lawrence, who has been with the North Hills School District for one year but worked with state police for about 25 years before that.
North Hills is one of several local districts to expand school policing as the school board develops an armed, in-house police force. Franklin Regional is also taking steps to establish an internal police force, while districts like Norwin work to find funding in next year's budget to hire a school resource officer.
Since February, around 60 threats have been made against schools, students or teachers in southwest Pennsylvania. At least 14 juveniles across the region, ages 12 to 17, face terroristic threats charges in connection with investigations into those cases.
Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, 724-850-2867 or via Twitter @Jamie_Martines.