Pittsburgh PA Schools Debate Indicates Police are a “Given”, Guns are a “Variable”
An article by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Molly Born indicates how far we’ve come in our debates about school safety. Ms. Born describes an ongoing debate in the school district regarding whether the school police should be armed or whether the school police should rely on armed city police in instances where students need to be arrested or fights need to be broken up. Ms. Born is speculating that the issue is likely to come to the forefront in the coming months because of a forthcoming board election, and the school police union wants a debate on arming their membership:
“It’s not that we think there’s this emergent need in the hallways of our schools,” said PFT vice-president Billy Hileman, whose union represents the district’s 21 school police. Still, he said, the union “believes our schools will be safer places if our police can respond to someone from the outside who may have harmful intentions.”
“If there is an active shooter in the school,” he added, “our school police are the ones that have the duty to intervene.”
City police provide backup for serious situations, but a September 2015 PFT resolution called that arrangement a “flawed safety system due to lengthy response time of the Pittsburgh Police” and their “reluctance … to deal with situations near certain schools, including afternoon and evening sporting events” that draw students and parents outside PPS.
In January 2016, Mr. Hileman took matters a step further, sending a letter to all nine board members asking them to consider removing the language prohibiting guns. The request, he said in an interview, was an effort to begin a “discussion about issuing firearms to school police officers and what the implementation would entail.” (The union itself has recommended training and psychological evaluation before issuing guns.)
Fortunately, some community members see this as more than a political issue:
Tiffany Sizemore-Thompson, assistant clinical professor at the Duquesne University School of Law, who specializes in juvenile justice issues, called the idea “a recipe for disaster” and said the district lacks data to support such a need.
“Having a gun really serves only to shore up that presence” of police as an “occupying force,” she said. “This is a school district that should be focused on progressive policies that are intended to decrease the amount of negative interactions [police] are having with children of color.”
But no where does Ms. Born pose the most important question: why have any uniformed police at all? Instead of 21 uniformed police the schools might have 12 more counselors or social workers or maybe 30+ Non-Teaching Assistants who could monitor entry ways and “hot-spots” in the schools. The article does illustrate one reality, though: once you institute uniformed guards in a school system an arms race seems certain to follow.