The Penn Hills School Board made a bold new change to the district’s security capabilities on October 27 when it approved the hiring of new School Police Chief/School Resource Officer Keith Lazaron.
Lazaron comes to the district with 21 years of experience and worked as a school resource officer for Lenape Technical High School in Armstrong County and also served in the Fawn Township Police Department and as a military police officer.
He has signed a five-year contract with the district and will seek to hire a full staff who will run safety programs in all schools in the district, including elementary, middle and high schools. Lazaron will have to petition the Allegheny County Court to receive approval to hire all staff, and the district hopes to hire at least four additional officers, all of whom will have authority in schools to conduct arrests and to bear arms.
“We will now have four layers in our security chain,” District Superintendent Nancy Hines said.
Each school has check-ins at the front door for all visitors, they also have youth engagement specialists who are trained to resolve any issues that arise with students. Additionally, there are active-duty Penn Hills police officers in the schools, including two in high school and one in middle school and elementary school.
“It’s part of our multi-tiered approach. We will continue to work closely with the Penn Hills Police Department, and this is to ensure the safety of children and staff in the event there is an armed intruder in the building,” Hines said. “It’s not about monitoring students.”
Lazaron was hired with a $323,000 grant through the Pennsylvania Crime and Delinquency Commission, and some of the funds will also be used to install security entrance booths in each parking lot. of their schools.
School Board President Erin Vecchio thanked Sen. Jay Costa for helping the district receive the grant.
“I had been looking to do something like this for years. If we have more security, parents and their children will feel safe,” Vecchio said. “There are homeschooling parents and charter schools instead of public schools, and I think that extra layer of security will put families at ease.”
Lazaron plans to start in Penn Hills around the first week of November. He said he plans to use the wealth of skills gained through his work experience and education to help cultivate a welcoming environment.
In addition to his professional experience, Lazaron also holds an Associate’s degree in Criminal Justice from Eastern Gateway Community College and is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and Intelligence and Security from Norwich University, a military college. of Vermont which also offers online courses. He would like to eventually obtain a doctorate.
“I want to contribute the knowledge I’ve learned and help build a relationship with students, staff and parents. At the end of the day, you may be a police officer, but you have to wear many hats,” Lazaron said. “Some days, I may need to be a guidance counselor. Some days I may need to be an emotional support person. It’s not just about being an officer, and I think I’m definitely up for the challenge, especially with the help of the Penn Hills Police Department, who I look forward to working with and on whom I will count for help.
Lazaron was fired from his job at Fawn in November 2020 following accusations of misconduct. He also filed a lawsuit against the township, alleging that his rights were violated as a result of the charges.
Lazaron was suspended on June 1, 2020, with the township alleging Lazaron altered a police report weeks after he filed it to include information about township supervisors Chairman David Montanari, who Lazaron said had threatened to attacking a neighbor for having made a recreational fire. Lazaron said Montanari told him to summon the neighbor, but the officer determined there was no violation and responded to a 911 dispatch for backup in Taranto.
Lazaron’s lawsuit claimed that Montanari threatened his neighbor more than a week after the initial incident.
“Because I didn’t follow the agenda of the chairman of the supervisory board, I am in the situation that I am in,” Lazaron told the Tribune-Review in 2020.
The case was closed in the summer of 2021 by an agreement between all parties for a voluntary dismissal.
“Keith provided us with full disclosure in the application and interview process. Although I was not there and not directly involved, it seems believable that politics may have been involved,” Hines said. “We have chosen to keep an open mind and respect Keith’s right, and the right of any employee for that matter, to initiate a legal challenge when he feels he has been treated unfairly by his employer. We have been impressed with Keith’s training and direct school experience, as well as his repeated expressions that getting hold of students should be an absolute last resort.
Darren Yuvan is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.