The Lead

Bill restoring school police arrest powers headed to Wolf

By: - November 22, 2019 2:37 pm

George W Nebinger Public School in Philadelphia. Philadelphia employs more school police officers than any other public school system in the state. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

A bill that will let school police officers in Pennsylvania resume making arrests is headed to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk, after securing final approval from the state Senate on Thursday. 

The chamber’s 39-14 vote  reverses a mistake lawmakers made in June, when they approved a bill that inadvertently stripped school police officers of that authority. 

The snafu became clear to school officials over the summer, leading Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate to craft legislation correcting the error.

The top Democrat in the Republican-controlled Senate expressed resigned approval for the House bill that arrived in the Senate Rules Committee on Thursday — its last stop before proceeding to the Senate floor for a vote. 

Minority leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, said his caucus would have preferred to see a bill that strengthened firearm training requirements for school security personnel. 

Current state law requires them to complete a 40-hour class conducted by the National Association for School Resource Officers before they can carry firearms on school grounds. 

But Democrats on the committee didn’t propose  any amendments in the meeting or during Thursday’s floor vote. 

Democrats on the House Education committee unsuccessfully tried to amend the bill last month to require mandatory anti-bias training for school police officers, who are employed in more than 80 school districts across the state.

Those amendments failed on party lines. 

Districts that employ school police officers must petition Commonwealth Court judges to authorize the officers to make arrests on school grounds.

Given the resources many districts invested in their campus police forces, school  administrators were caught off-guard by the change to state law in June, Snyder County District Attorney Mike Piecuch told the Capital-Star in August.

“A lot of planning went in to get these school police departments off the ground,” Piecuch said. “From a school’s perspective, if you are investing in a police infrastructure that doesn’t have any police powers, that doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

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Elizabeth Hardison
Elizabeth Hardison

Elizabeth Hardison covered education policy, election administration, criminal justice and legislative news for the Capital-Star from Jan. 2019-April 2021. You can find her on Twitter @ElizHardison.