California police officer to patrol school district

Council approved the arrangement, but only for the first semester of the school year.


Matt Petras

California Borough Council members at the monthly meeting, August 8, 2019

One of California’s full-time police officers will patrol the California Area School District for the first semester of the upcoming school year.

Borough council approved the move at Thursday’s meeting after a spirited discussion among council members, district superintendent Michael Sears and residents. This request is in line with previous years, according to Sears.

This allows for an examination of the costs, after which council and the school district will negotiate an agreement for the school year.

The two high-profile mass shootings that recently occurred in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, loomed over the meeting. Before beginning, Council President Patsy Alfano called for a moment of silence in remembrance of the victims of those shootings.

Councilman Jon Bittner suggested the school district look into other ways of funding police that don’t come out of the borough’s pocket, but ultimately agreed to provide an officer for one semester out of concern for the children’s safety.

“One police officer between two buildings stretches it a little thin,” Bittner said. “I think it’s incumbent upon the school district to provide for the safety of those kids up there, and I think it’s incumbent upon the school district to pursue some grants or funding so that they can get a police force up there full time.”

In the past, the school district has looked into funding police itself through a private firm, but the costs would be high, Sears said at the meeting.

Councilman Phil Difilippo argued that having California Borough police on campus provides an intrinsic social good.

“To me it seems like it’s the prime example of perfect community-oriented policing,” Difilippo said. “We have officers up there who are getting to have a rapport with the students, children, in the community, and it gives them a safe haven that they know that we’re not the villains.”

Though Councilman Tony Mariscotti pushed for approving a full year throughout the discussion, he ended up signing onto the decision to make it just one semester. Nobody on council voted against the motion.

“This story was made possible by a partnership between the Mon Valley Independent and the Cal Times, funded by a grant from Bridge Pittsburgh.”