Allegheny County PA Dec 15 2016 With the blessing Tuesday of an Allegheny County Common Pleas Court judge, the Gateway School District plans to arm its 13-officer security team by the end of the week.
President Judge Jeffrey A. Manning approved a petition to allow the school district’s new police force to carry guns and issue citations on school property.
“It seems to me the only proper thing for the court to do here is to sign the order and let you proceed,” Judge Manning said after hearing testimony from district officials. “Obviously, having no protection for children in schools is definitely not better.”
The district hired the officers before the school year started in August. They have been working as security guards and have not been allowed to carry guns. The district initially filed a petition in civil court, but it was rejected in September by Senior Judge Timothy O’Reilly, who expressed concern that the officers did not have appropriate training and that the school district was too hasty with its proposal.
The district is appealing Judge O’Reilly’s decision, but district solicitor Bruce Dice said he filed an amended petition in criminal court because the issue has to do with firearms and the creation of a new police force.
“It’s good to actually bring the board’s desire to fruition,” Gateway school board member Chad Stubenbort said after Judge Manning announced his decision.
All that remains now is for the officers to be sworn in before a magistrate. “They will move forward as police officers at that point,” Mr. Dice said.
The Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office filed a petition to intervene, arguing that while District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. believes it is “prudent” for the district to maintain an armed police force, all officers should have proper certification, training and oversight. The office did not object to Judge Manning’s ruling.
There are 13 officers — all retired police officers — already on the district payroll, Mr. Stubenbort told the judge. The police force answers to the superintendent and has a supervisor, assistant supervisor and firearms training officer.
Five of the officers are certified school resource officers, and all of them have undergone training in areas such as active shooter situations and working with students who have special needs. The district plans to hire six more officers, said board member Mary Beth Cirucci.
District officials said they have been considering an armed security force for more than a year, after incidents such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 made them realize more protection was necessary beyond the two armed school resource officers it used to employ from the Monroeville and Pitcairn police departments.
During his testimony, Gateway superintendent William Short pointed out that this week marks the four-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook incident, in which a gunman walked into the Connecticut school and killed 20 children and six adults.
“That was the unthinkable act that led us down this path,” Mr. Short said.