ALLEGHENY COUNTY, Pa. (KDKA) — Some school districts are talking about removing school police officers as part of the nationwide discussion of police reform.

One local district already did that, and the superintendent says it’s working.

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Woodland Hills High School is different than the images in the news a few years ago. James Harris became superintendent in October of 2018 and says behavioral incidents are down 70 percent.

“In speaking with students starting last year, the tone and environment of the building changed. It became less tense, less aggressive,” Harris says.

Only a few years ago, videos showing police and administrators in physical confrontations with students at Woodland Hills made headlines. Harris says now, instead of starting with police to diffuse incidents, they start with the teachers who know the students best.

They exhaust every resource, including administrators, counselors and the child’s family before bringing in the police.

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“There is a need for empathy, for understanding, communication,” Harris says. “That’s a counselor or principal or staff members who are familiar with the students, staff members who live in the community, who understand the needs and desires of our students.”

Harris says the two police officers who used to patrol the high school are no longer needed.

Harris was a military police officer himself.

“I was never trained to patrol the hallways of a high school,” he says. “I was trained to detain and apprehend people, not to discuss why they were doing what they were doing. So I understand the police were put into a bad situation.”

Harris says if schools want to remove police, they shouldn’t just pull them out.

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First, they need to put supports in place for the teachers and staff to feel safe before making that change.

Kristine Sorensen