State police have added five full-time section staffers.By Royce Jones

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The Pennsylvania State Police announced the expansion of its Heritage Affairs Section.

State police have added five full-time section staffers, which include one commander and four Heritage Affairs Liaison officers. The troopers come from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds and have varying education and work experience, according to police.

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“That’s one thing that PSP is working on, to build a department that reflects the diversity of the commonwealth,” spokesperson Ryan Tarkowski told KDKA.

Each officer covers one section of the state. The HALO assigned to western Pennsylvania covers Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Clarion, Clearfield, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Fayette, Forrest, Greene, Jefferson, Lawrence McKean, Mercer, Venango, Warren, and Washington counties.

HALOs are assigned to prevent and investigate hate crimes, specifically among the underserved. This includes Pennsylvania’s Black, Hispanic, and LGBTQIA+ communities.

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“It’s so important to build those relationships, especially in the underserved communities who may, in the past, have felt like their voices haven’t been heard,” said Tarkowski.

These officers can’t investigate police, but they can help mediate hate or bias-related concerns within the community. They can also assist local police in their investigations into hate crimes.

HALOs also head the PSP’s implicit bias and de-escalation training. The position itself is not new but, previously, it was only staffed part-time. Given recent injustices, state police say change needs to happen now.

“Trying to address issues before they become critical,” said Tarkowski.

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To contact a Heritage Affairs Liaison officer in your community, click here.