The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

February 23, 2014

Schools seek OK for armed guards

NORTHERN MERCER COUNTY — Greenville and Commodore Perry school districts have asked that a Mercer County Common Pleas Court judge issue orders allowing them to have armed security guards at their schools.

District Attorney Robert G. Kochems has already given his blessing but the solicitor for both districts, Thomas E. Breth, thinks they would be “better off” to get a judge’s OK, said Greenville Superintendent Mark Ferrera.

Both schools already have unarmed security guards provided through contracts with private firms and have received state security grants that would allow them to have armed guards, he said.

The security firms – Diversified Security Solutions for Commodore Perry and Ponds Security Service LLC for Greenville – hire retired policemen.

The Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act allows qualified retired policemen to carry concealed firearms, but the law makes clear that it does not supersede any other law that prohibits firearms on government property.

The state Criminal Code forbids the possession of firearms on school property unless the weapon is possessed “in conjunction with a lawful supervised school activity ... or is possessed for other lawful purpose.”

Kochems told the schools he believes an employee of a security firm hired by a school district would not violate state law by being armed on school property, and he would not authorize prosecution under those circumstances.

Ferrera said Ponds has served the district for a couple of years, and officials wanted to upgrade the guard’s deterrent capability by being armed.

“We think it’s another line of defense for our students and staff,” he said. “They say the best defense against a bad person with a gun is a good person with a gun.”

Some Mercer County schools have uniformed police from their local police departments walking their halls, but Greenville council backed out of such an agreement, Ferrera said.

While Ferrera said he would have preferred to have a Greenville-West Salem Township policeman at the school, and was not informed why borough council decided not to participate, he also noted there would have been a financial commitment by the borough.

The grant Greenville received would have required the borough to pay the policeman to work regular police duties in the summer, and half of his salary during the second year of the grant period, Ferrera said.

Ferrera noted that, if Ponds is allowed to provide an armed guard, the guard would visit all three district schools at irregular times.

The school districts filed their petitions Friday and Ferrera said he expects a judge will act in two weeks or so.

The $40,000 grant Greenville received for security is separate from a $25,000 Safe Schools grant the district was awarded this week, which will go to upgrade surveillance cameras. Officials also are looking at buying new lights and panic devices, Ferrera said.

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