Guards 'Essential' to School Safety at Pennsylvania School

When bullets started flying and panicked students ran to safety inside Westinghouse High School yesterday, unarmed security guard Ty Harrell rushed outside.

Mr. Harrell found a 16-year-old student shot in the leg and buttocks, lifted him by the shoulders and dragged him into the Homewood school.

"He certainly earned his money today," Pittsburgh Public Schools Police Chief Robert Fadzen said of Mr. Harrell, about two months on the job.

It was the third gun-related incident in five weeks for Chief Fadzen's 100 guards and officers, who face the same dangers as city police officers, without the weapons, attention or pay.

On the morning of Feb. 11, a guard monitoring security cameras observed two students from another school slip into Perry Traditional Academy. Within 64 seconds -- an impressive response time, Chief Fadzen said -- the guard had confronted the students and confiscated a handgun from one of them.

On Jan. 11, school police officers sent to arrest a Carrick High School student on indecent assault charges found a gun in his back pocket while tussling with him outside the cafeteria.

In both cases, Chief Fadzen said, his officers' quick action narrowly averted tragedy.

"They do a thankless job ... They're very under-appreciated, I feel," Chief Fadzen said.

Chief Fadzen yesterday called for the district to create a 100-hour certification program for school guards, saying his guards don't receive enough training now. He said the state has no training standards for guards.

Also, school board member Randall Taylor, whose district takes in Homewood, said he's willing to renew discussion of arming at least some of Chief Fadzen's force. In the past, he said, the idea has had virtually no support among board members.

Nationwide, arming of school police officers is common, while arming of security guards is not, said Richard M. Harvell, executive director of the National Association of School Safety and Law-Enforcement Officers.

Chief Fadzen described schools as oases for students in troubled neighborhoods, saying more problems occur outside than within. Mr. Harvell agreed, noting weekend street fights can flare up again when rival factions see each other in school Monday morning.

Chief Fadzen has about 70 guards and 30 police officers to cover 86 schools. They make between $33,564 and $42,432 a year, less than the average city police officer's base salary of $52,142.

Often the first line of defense at schools, guards operate metal detectors, patrol the halls and monitor security cameras. The police officers are assigned to zones and move among buildings in marked patrol cars.

School police officers have arrest powers and carry handcuffs and collapsible batons; guards have no arrest powers and carry nothing. Police officers are graduates of the city or county police academy; guards are trained on the job, and receive an additional 16 hours of training a year, Chief Fadzen said.

Chief Fadzen said Mr. Harrell was operating a metal detector yesterday morning when shots rang out just outside the door.

He was at the wounded student's side within seconds of the shooting, captured by the school's exterior cameras.

The school district declined to make Mr. Harrell available for an interview yesterday.

His mother, Dennise Harrell, has been a school guard for about 30 years. Chief Fadzen said Ms. Harrell, while working at South High School two years ago, single-handedly detained two teenagers wanted for killing a counselor at a Mercer County reform school.

At a city-school district forum on school safety on Thursday, Chief Fadzen and school Superintendent Mark Roosevelt said school safety is a continuous and elusive goal.

Mr. Roosevelt and Mayor Bob O'Connor used the forum to announce a "safety-zone partnership," saying they intended to create safe havens within a 1,000-foot radius of schools. They said the stepped-up law enforcement would target threats of every kind, from drugs to abandoned buildings and vehicles.

All are problems in Homewood. Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. O'Connor visited Westinghouse after yesterday's shooting and attended a girls' basketball game -- Westinghouse versus Carrick -- there last night.

Police presence was doubled at last night's playoff game. Police cars patrolled the premises along with members of the Pittsburgh Street Response Unit.

"This isn't just a Westinghouse problem," said Mr. O' Connor. "This is societal problem. Why do kids have guns? And who is selling them to kids?"

"This isn't just my job," said Chief Fadzen. "This isn't just the superintendent's job and it isn't just Bob's job -- this is everybody's job."

The security guards and officers are represented by Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers. They make an effort to get to know students and gauge the emotional temperature of their building each day, said Chief Fadzen and Sherman Shrager, the union's vice president for middle schools and liaison to the district's human resources office.

Chief Fadzen said the district in recent years has increased its investment in other safety tools, such as new metal detectors.