Community discusses likelihood of school police officers

During 2023, there have been thirty reported incidents of gunfire on school grounds in the U.S. Every day administrators, parents, and students enter the school with a terrorizing thought in the back of their minds: what will today be like?

In order to ease this apprehension, Perkiomen Valley School District is entertaining the possibility of employing an armed police force. Two public meetings were held on the 7th and 13th of March to discuss the logistics of this plan. 

Currently, the school district has nine school security officers (SSOs) and retains seven contracted security guards. However, the school board feels that the district would benefit from school police officers (SPOs). SSOs provide a security presence, establish positive relationships with students and staff and maintain situational awareness. SPOs have the same responsibilities in addition to responding appropriately to situations that threaten the safety, health, and welfare of students and/or staff. The main push for SPOs is to reduce the response time in school shooting situations, which they have substantial training for. Pennsylvania’s Municipal Police Officers’ Education and Training Commission requires SPOs to have at least five years of successful continuous police service as well as extensive training.

“Our main role is to protect our students and staff, ” Chief Boyer, a Spring-Ford Area High School officer who discussed his experiences being an SPO at the March 7th meeting, said. 

The officers from Spring-Ford, whose police force is being used as a model for PV’s own proposed force, emphasized the importance of making personal connections with the students. They believe that they are at the school not only to enforce discipline and security but to also foster relationships with students who may need a positive role model or support system in their life. 

“Sometimes I’m the only person that says that to that kid when I see them in the hallway, ‘I am so glad you came to school today. It’s really nice to see you. Is there anything I can help you with?’” Lieutenant Phillips, another Spring-Ford officer, said. 

However, despite all the seemingly positive aspects of having SPOs, parents and students are concerned about the possible negative implications. Many studies show that the presence of SPOs can increase arrests regarding noncriminal youthful behavior contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline, disproportionately distribute discipline to students of color and actually increase the number of deaths and injuries in school shootings.

“There are studies that indicate that the escalation of matters tends to adversely affect students of color, especially women, so I am concerned about that number as a person of color,”  Mr. McKinney, a community member, said. 

 Community members also question whether the $1,324,099- the cost of the plan- would be better suited towards hiring more counselors and social workers who can work to improve students’ mental health. Since most school shooters stem from serious mental health issues, having more resources available could prove to be a boon. 

“Are we investing in an initiative or considering investing an initiative for a catastrophic event when there are other ways to mitigate risk?” Mr. Morton, a policing consultant, said. 

The school board will further discuss the logistics of this initiative in April meetings. Community members can review the Safety and Security presentation on BoardDocs in order to ensure they understand all the facets of the plan. SPOs may be in PV’s imminent future and students, parents and teachers can utilize this resource to understand exactly what that details. 

“As a student, this is a topic very close to home that I think about a lot which is unfortunate in today’s society that we have to be here, but obviously we want to look at the data and we want to determine what is the most effective solution,” Christian Sibel, a senior at PV said.