Special series: This week we're exploring legislative action taken recently in Harrisburg on important bills that were overshadowed by the passage of the state budget.
New legislation to increase the number of schools with an on-site police presence now awaits Gov. Tom Corbett’s signature before becoming law.
Senate Bill 1194 will allow school districts in municipalities that do not have their own local police department to join with departments from neighboring municipalities for added protection and on-site personnel. Under this legislation, these schools would be able to work with nearby departments for a variety of police services and hire retired and part-time officers to help secure their facilities.
Primary sponsor State Senator Don White (R-Indiana/Butler) explained that this bill is intended to fill certain gaps in police coverage for schools.
“A lot of schools in my district, and rural areas, are dependent upon state police protection and state police coverage,” said White. White explained that these schools might be more than an hour’s drive from the nearest state police barracks, but have a neighboring municipality’s police department five minutes away.
State Senator Matt Smith (D- Allegheny/Washington) also sponsored the bill and says the state police are often limited in the services they can provide to school districts under their jurisdiction. Rural schools that want to work with police to run drills, host informational sessions, and provide education outreach programs need more options, Smith said.
“They may be covered by the state police, but they may want…the local control in being able to cooperate and enter into a cooperative agreement with a neighboring municipal law enforcement organization,” Smith said.
In light of the April 9th Franklin Regional stabbings, White says it is important for schools to have law enforcement on call that can respond quickly. For some schools, that might mean building a closer relationship with nearby police departments. For others, it could mean having an officer on-site.
“There’s a lot of flexibility here, and if they want to hire a retired or part-time police officer to physically be in the school, they can,” said White.
In the event of an emergency, all nearby law enforcement would respond, with or without this legislation, said Smith.
“This would just clarify that because they have this cooperative police service agreement, they are obligated to respond to that specific school incident,” Smith said.
This bill would not change the jurisdictions of the Pennsylvania State Police, White added. The measure builds on a $3.9 million grant that was released in February to allow schools to apply for funding to hire on-site police officers or school resource officers.