Bethel Park School District expands its police department

Bethel Park School District expands its police department

BETHEL PARK, Pa. — Gun violence in schools is a reality parents and districts are now forced to grapple with, especially after the shooting in Parkland, Florida last February. It's led to a change in how several local districts handle security, making officers a familiar sight for teachers and students.

At Bethel Park High School, the district has set up its own police force. Officers say so far it has gotten good feedback, with many students saying they were surprised how often they spotted officers in the school.

Bethel Park is at the front of a growing trend in Western Pennsylvania, with school districts hiring their own police forces. Bethel Park has employed a single officer since 2012, but this school year the district added three more officers to its department. They all report to Superintendent Joseph Pasquerilla.

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Pasquerilla says the horrific shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida played a role in expanding the district's police department.

"We really felt that increasing the school police officers, both for prevention and to be able to react if something did happen, will save lives," Pasquerilla said.

It's a move several other school districts in Allegheny County are making as well. Upper St. Clair, West Mifflin, Gateway, Pittsburgh and the North Hills School District all have or are adding their own police officers inside of schools this year.

Pasquerilla says the district received little pushback on the cost of the expansion and they will continue to evaluate the change moving forward.

"When you're looking at all of the different options to increase your safety none of them are bad," Pasquerilla said. "But what would be the most meaningful for the tax dollars?"

The Bethel Park School District still has a school resource officer through Bethel Park police and unarmed security guards in the school as well. They say having that presence helps keep the line of communication strong between the district and the borough police.