Earlier this year, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed legislation creating new training requirements for armed school security personnel. However, the new bill mistakenly stripped police officers within schools of their power to arrest. This was taken away from licensed law enforcement throughout at least 80 schools with 617 school police officers throughout the state of Pennsylvania. After this mistake was made, the Pennsylvania House Education Committee is taking steps forward to reinstate this power.
Pennsylvania Lawmaker’s Mistake
The bill signed by Wolf back in June was done with a goal in mind to make school safety a priority for students. However, a different change was made as well. Lawmakers and the Pennsylvania Fraternal Order of Police wanted to also make sure that school police officers that were hired by private, third-party contractors were not able to make arrests. Unfortunately, the slight change within the bill’s language changed the right of school police officers entirely.
The unintended consequence has brought some difficulty to certain school districts in the state. Director of Safety and Security for Central Dauphin School District, Gabriel Olivera, said, “It causes an inconvenience for us because now we have to wait for available officers [from the community] to respond and then it’s an inconvenience for the officers from the local jurisdiction because they now have to handle something we normally would handle.” This was seen in the district during a school theft in which three officers identified and detained the thief but had to wait for local police instead of making the arrest on their own.
Franklin County Republican Rob Kauffman, also a chair for the Committee, stated, “While this bill took major strides in keeping our students safe, one slight change in language mistakenly stripped arrest authority from fully trained career police officers employed by our school districts.” Once the issue was brought to light, Kauffman announced his plans to correct the mistake.
Returning Arrest Powers to School Officers
On Monday, October 21, a bill got approval from a key state House committee to reinstate arresting powers to school police officers in Pennsylvania. It is the priority of many lawmakers in the state of Pennsylvania to rectify this situation. Senator Mike Regan spoke on the matter by saying, “School safety has been a top priority of mine since the first day I stepped foot in the Capitol. We have had an ongoing dialogue with school police officers from across the commonwealth and it is our goal to restore powers so they can do their job of protecting children in school.”
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