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Council approves police hiring grant solution

City police are seeking more security and protection for students in Williamsport Area School District and additional operational patrol on city streets.

That’s the twin need and what Chief of Police Damon Hagan said Thursday night to City Council in a packed Michael Ross Event room, where council held its initial meeting in the Trade and Transit Centre II.

Hagan said the city needed Ben Hitesman, who was a part-time or half-time school resource officer, back on the beat “due to operational” needs.

That meant that one resource officer would be available at the school district, a fact the school board is aware of, and one that didn’t fall on deaf ears for council, which also wants to see the best use of the departmental resources and help out if it can with district needs.

Hagan said while Hitesman could, in between calls, get into the elementary schools for visits, he would be back mainly as a full-time patrolman.

But Hagan also said it was his intention for the administration to seek a federal grant available through the U.S. Department of Justice COPS Hiring Grant Program, to help to pay a majority of costs to get a second full-time school resource officer into the district.

The terms of the grant include having the city pay 25 percent of the costs over three years and a full price for the fourth year. Some other means of paying for the cost of the officer could be obtained through use of general funds, police said.

In fact, a full-time officer is $52,474 a year, and 70 days are related to summer vacations, she said.

Councilwoman Liz Miele noted the city would be about $13,185 short in its income estimate this year for such school resource officer coverage.

Miele and six others approved the police request, but she and council say they want to take a hard look at spending money on police, including a review of overtime, requests for more police to be funded as retirements occur, while balancing both needs of the city and school safety and security.

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