Seven months after a Snyder County judge granted full arrest powers to Selinsgrove Area School District Police Chief Mark Wolfberg and two of his part-time officers, Pennsylvania lawmakers have stripped much of their authority away.
Act 67 limits the arrest powers of all school district officers to only issuing citations for summary offenses such as smoking or drinking on campus, harassment and disorderly conduct. They are not permitted to charge anyone on campus with a misdemeanor or felony offense.
"Nobody saw this coming. Nobody," said Wolfberg, a former Selinsgrove borough police officer who recently had two new part-time officers added to his department.
Snyder County District Attorney Michael Piecuch is trying to understand what happened.
"It was done so quickly and quietly," he said of the state's decision to reduce school police officers' authority just one year after enacting a bill allowing school districts to establish their own enforcement department.
"School districts have invested in this and specifically hired (staff) with a high level of qualifications," said Piecuch.
State Rep. Lynda Schlegel Culver, R-108 of Sunbury, said the limitations came about after concerns were raised by the Fraternal Order of Police who have offered to meet with school-based officers.
"Safety is our primary concern," she said, adding that lawmakers will likely revisit the issue.
As for now, Act 67 will take effect Aug. 31.
Valley schools that have established a police department with officers include Selinsgrove, Danville, Lewisburg, Midd-West, Shikellamy and Warrior Run.
Shikellamy School District hired a police chief and an officer in recent weeks. Retired state police trooper Paul Mall is scheduled to be on the job as Midd-West's school police chief before the start of the 2019-20 school year on Aug. 20.
Midd-West School Board President Victor Abate said Act 67 will have no impact on Mall's responsibilities since the district hired him with the aim of providing security and forging relationships with students and staff while leaving enforcement of misdemeanor and felony crimes to municipal and state agencies.
For other districts that created departments and hired officers with the aim of having them exercise more authority, the impact will be felt, said Wolfberg.
Wolfberg said area school police officers expected they would be required to complete more training which led several officers to attend a 40-hour training program through the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit last month.
In addition, Wolfberg said, many school police officers maintain the same certification and training of municipal police officers.
"Isn't it ridiculous that we're armed and calling ourselves police officers but are only allowed to issue summary citations," he said. "Now we have to tie up a second agency (in more serious cases) when we could have handled it ourselves."
In the meantime, Wolfberg said, school districts' police officers will continue to do the primary job they were hired to perform.
"We're still on campus for the protection of the students, staff and faculty and we will still be armed," he said.