BUTLER, Pa. - The Butler Area School Board has authorized school police officers to carry firearms -- not because of any immediate threat but as a precaution, school board president Don Pringle said Tuesday.
A dozen school district police officers should be armed within the next two or three months, once the board approves final policies and procedures, he said.
"We're not making it into a prison," Pringle said. "We're doing this for the protection of our students. We don't want to be thinking, 'Oh, my goodness, I wish we would have.'"
The board voted 8-1 on Monday to arm the police, with board member Jim Keffalas casting the dissenting vote.
The district isn't saying how it will deploy the armed police because of security concerns, Pringle said.
“I think it’s great. I think it’s what we need, because if something would happen we would be prepared,” school police officer Jerry Markel said.
There have been no immediate threats of violence, Pringle said. Incidents in the past few years included an angry parent going to a school with a gun.
Pringle said the school board began talking about the issue after the Feb. 27 shootings by a student inside Chardon High School in Ohio that killed three students and wounded three.
Butler Area Superintendent Dr. Mike Strutt said the officers are retired state troopers, so they’re well-versed in handling weapons.
“These guys have the experience. We always have to ask ‘What if?’ Now we are prepared,” Strutt said.
"They have extensive training in carrying guns," Pringle said. "They're not going to be handing guns to people like you and me; these are people who have handled guns for 20 or 30 years."
Pittsburgh Public Schools does not arm its police officers in the schools, spokeswoman Ebony Pugh said. The School District of Philadelphia does not arm its police officers, spokesman Fernando Gallard said, but city police officers assigned to each of the 23 large neighborhood high schools in the district carry firearms.
Pringle said that the district has metal detectors at all 11 elementary schools and three secondary buildings.
The district has about 7,500 students and 1,000 staff members.
Ryan McIntyre was one of the many students who told Channel 11’s Amy Marcinkiewicz that he welcomes the increased protection.
“I feel safer. It’s kind of sad that we need this, but I feel like it’s a necessity in this day and age,” McIntyre said.
Pringle said it could cost the district less than $50,000 to put the program in place, including paying for firearms.
"It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when," Pringle said of the possibility of violence in the schools.
Channel 11’s news exchange partners at TribLIVE contributed to this report.
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