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School Police Presence Increased Across Allegheny County Over Five Years

Sarah Schneider
90.5 WESA
Quaker Valley School Police Officer Aaron Vanatta in this 2018 photo leads a training group through the middle school explaining ways he has secured the building.

new report from Research for Action shows that school police presence has increased across Allegheny County over the past five years, despite efforts by some districts to reduce school policing.

From 2015 to 2019 the total number of school police officers and school resource officers in the county grew from 72 to 115.

The education-focused, Philadelphia-based research group found that Allegheny County school districts with higher concentrations of students of color spend more money per pupil on safety and security measures than districts with the lowest share of students of color.

“The data show a clear disparity. The schools that have the highest percentage of students of color are spending $278 per student while that’s more than double than most of the other school districts,” said Mary Edins, an education policy research fellow with RFA.

It’s unclear how the money is being spent.

School safety expenditures in most districts lump together costs for equipment, like metal detectors and security cameras, with school police salaries. The data used in the report is the data that districts share with the state. It doesn’t capture the informal agreements districts may have with police officers.

“Even though an officer isn’t a school police officer or school resource officer doesn’t mean that they can’t be on school grounds. What we do see is the story that this data is telling is in line with recent news reports of growth in the area,” she said.

The report noted that state data show Gateway, North Allegheny, North Hills and Upper. St. Clair reported zero school police, even though each employs at least one officer. RFA replaced the missing data with values obtained directly from the districts.

Of the 43 county school districts, 28 reported having at least one school police officer or school resource officer in the 2019-2020 school year.

“More reliable data are needed to fully understand the extent of police staffing as well as other forms of policing in Allegheny County schools. In the meantime, district and school leaders should consider the limited evidence on the effectiveness of school police, extensive evidence of negative impacts on students of color and alternative approaches to school safety,” the report concluded.