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Waynesboro board debates merits of school police officer

January 17, 2008|By JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - A grant application to place a police officer in Waynesboro schools was never submitted for 2007-08, but will hopefully be supported for the next school year, school board member K. Marilyn Smith said this week.

On Jan. 17, 2007, the Waynesboro Borough Council lent its support to a Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency grant application for the officer's salary, benefits and equipment.

Smith said the school board's support wasn't formally sought last year, so she asked for a vote in favor of the idea at Tuesday's board meeting. That vote passed 8-1, with Firmadge Crutchfield dissenting.

"What other public servant is the school subsidizing?" Crutchfield asked.

The borough council on Wednesday agreed to hold a special meeting on Jan. 23 to discuss the issue.

The officer would become a member of the borough's police force.

If awarded, the grant would require matching local contributions for part of the $66,000 annual figure provided by the commission. The local contributions would be 20 percent the first year, 50 percent the second year and 75 percent the third year, Smith said.

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Of the $66,000, she said $41,000 would be earmarked for the officer's annual salary.

"The police are being called to the schools frequently to deal with (incidents). ... At the end of three years, we can determine whether this was helpful," Smith said.

Smith said a school resource officer would be selected from the department's current pool of officers, then another police officer would be hired to fill that void. The school resource officer would have arrest capabilities, she said.

Waynesboro has an authorized complement of 20 full-time officers.

"I would never support the school district paying for someone else's employees," said board member Leland Lemley. He said he would support the school resource officer position if the local contributions came from a revenue source other than tax dollars for the general fund.

Board member Chris Devers said the major part of the officer's job would be gathering intelligence to prevent problems or expedite investigations if problems occur.

"From the 20 years I've been in public safety, I see an incredible benefit from those officers," he said.

Several board members also argued that a properly trained officer could further protect the district from the legal ramifications of the administration handling incidents.

"We really walk a fine line as we interrogate and search these kids," Devers said.

A school resource officer could free up administrators' time currently spent "playing cop," according to board member Stanley Barkdoll.

The officer could also provide training for teachers regarding ways to de-escalate situations, Smith said.

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