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Greater Latrobe officials discuss resource officer plan with city council

| Monday, Feb. 24, 2014, 11:00 p.m.

By next fall, Michael Porembka, Greater Latrobe director of teaching and learning, said he envisions a police officer who can interact with students, enjoy eating lunch with younger children or leading prevention programs with older ones.

“One aspect is safety and security of our school grounds, but I believe that a larger aspect of it is building relationships with our kids, mentoring, getting in the classrooms,” he said.

Porembka and Superintendent Judith Swigart attended Monday night's Latrobe council meeting to discuss an agreement between the city's police department and the school district to provide a school resource officer, whose salary would be funded by a grant through the state Department of Education.

That funding includes $60,000 in the program's first year and $30,000 in the second year. The position would be fully funded by the district in the third year, Porembka said.

“There's nothing more that I would like than to have the black and orange car parked in front of the black and orange school,” Porembka said, referring to the colors of the city's police cars that coincide with the district's colors.

The district has discussed the matter with police Chief Jim Bumar and wants an agreement in place to advertise for the position at council's meeting on March 10.

“I think it would be a good match,” Bumar said.

The officer would be fully trained as a Latrobe police officer but would only work on regular patrols in the city when school was not in session, Bumar said.

Otherwise, the officer would be hired specifically for the school resource officer position and travel among all five school buildings during regular shifts, he said.

While state police have jurisdiction in Unity, which is a part of the school district, the school resource officer program was discontinued, so they could not provide this service, Porembka said.

The school district works with the sheriff's office to provide security at after-school events, except for some traffic control at Latrobe Elementary School on Ligonier Street and football games, which are played within the city police department's jurisdiction at Memorial Stadium in Legion-Keener Park.

“The state police obviously provide us coverage in Unity Township and Youngstown borough, but they're not a daily presence on our campus or at our schools. This would provide a daily presence by the city of Latrobe at all five of our schools and our administration building,” Porembka said.

City manager Alex Graziani said officials will examine agreements and amend them as necessary or create a new memorandum of understanding with the goal to hire and train the officer before the August start of the next school year.

The city is searching for funding to possibly provide the new officer with a police car, Graziani said.

In other business, Bumar asked solicitor Jim Kelly to prepare a measure for council to vote on a neighborhood watch program during its next meeting.

The program would include block captains and involve police officers only for organizational and educational programs, Bumar said.

“It's the community's project; the community will run it,” he said.

Attempts to sustain a similar program have faltered, but it could be possible that development organizations or grant funding would support this program, Councilman Mike Skapura said.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or sfederoff@tribweb.com.

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