The Bethlehem Police Department is getting a $625,000 in federal grant to hire five school resource officers who will work in schools of Bethlehem Area School District.
"That's great news," said Dr. Dean Donaher, director of student services in Bethlehem Area School District.
"It will help our kids and our teachers by providing a safer environment for our schools. Hopefully, it will help us do a better job of educating the kids."
One of the new officers will work in Liberty High School. The other four will be assigned to the district's four middle schools --Broughal, East Hills, Nitschmann and Northeast -- which are all located in the city.
Donaher said currently the district has one Bethlehem city police officer working in Liberty High and one Bethlehem Township officer working in Freedom High School.
He said the school district and municipalities split the cost of those school resource officers.
Several years back, said Donaher, the school district also had school resource officers in each of its middle schools, but funding for those positions eventually dried up.
"One year we had one officer trying to cover two middle schools, but that didn't work out very well."
Bethlehem Police Chief Craig Finnerty could not predict when the five officers will be hired and trained, explaining he does not yet know when the federal funds to hire them will be released.
The funding from the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) was announced Friday in Philadelphia by U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger.
COPS offers grants to state and local law enforcement agencies to hire or rehire community policing officers. The program provides the salary and benefits for officers for three years.
“Bethlehem is a safe city because we make safety a priority,” said Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan, in a news release announcing the grant.
“The additional police officers in our schools will help ensure our dedication to public safety, as well as increase our interaction with the students in our schools in partnership with the Bethlehem Area School District.”
“We take the safety and security of our children very seriously,” said the police chief in that release. “Being awarded this grant will help us improve our commitment to our community by giving us the ability to assign School Resource Officers to our schools.”
The COPS Office is a federal agency responsible for advancing community policing nationwide. Since 1995, COPS has awarded over $14 billion to make that happen.
“In the wake of past tragedies, it's clear that we need to be willing to take all possible steps to ensure that our kids are safe when they go to school,” said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in the news release.
“These critical investments represent the Justice Department's latest effort to strengthen key law enforcement capabilities, and to provide communities with the resources they need to protect our young people.
"Especially in a time of increased challenges and limited budgets, our top priority must always be the safety and well-being of our children.”