York City School Police chief asks for PepperBall protection

Junior Gonzalez
York Dispatch

The York City School District Police Department is looking to equip officers with a non-lethal weapon that officers say will buy them time and save lives in life-threatening situations.

A PepperBall launcher (bottom) could accompany a taser with York City School District police officers if a proposal made on Feb. 12, 2017 is approved by the city school board.

Department Chief Michael Muldrow proposed outfitting every officer in his police department with PepperBall launchers, a pepper spray-type weapon used to disorient and help neutralize threats within 150 feet.

First weapon expansion: The four-year-old police department has used tasers and pepper spray since its creation — no guns — and the department has been reluctant to expand its arsenal.

While the reluctance is a feeling Muldrow still holds, he said the city school district and thousands of other schools across the nation must reckon with an environment where school shootings have increased in both scope and frequency.

In just the first 44 days of 2018, there have been 18 school shootings across the United States, according to the gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety.

On Wednesday, Feb. 14, a former student opened fire at a high school in Parkland, Florida, in an act that killed at least 17 people.

“It’s all about readiness,” Muldrow said. “Society is getting more challenging and more complicated.”

During Muldrow’s presentation, he mentioned past incidents at both the city school district and in Red Lion.

Officer Alan Clarkson holds a PepperBall launcher. If approved, the York City School District would be the first district in the country to use PepperBall in its force.

In February 2014, a disgruntled father entered the front lobby of the Phineas Davis K-8 school, smashed several windows and made death threats toward the student body, though no one was wounded.

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In February 2001, a man went on a machete attack in North Hopewell-Winterstown Elementary School in Red Lion and wounded a dozen students and staff members.

Both incidents, Muldrow said, might have turned out very differently — for the better — had there been a device like the PepperBall.

PepperBall: The projectiles, as described by PepperBall Government Accounts Director Monte Scott, come with a micro-pulverized powder that emits a smoke cloud after hitting its target, disorienting the target and releasing an effect similar to pepper spray.

The projectiles travel about 350 feet per second and have about the same bodily impact as a paintball, Scott said.

Out of millions of projectiles shipped to police departments and military centers around the country, not one fatality from the PepperBall has been reported, according to Scott.

If approved, the York City School District Police Department would become the first school district police department in the nation to have PepperBall in its weaponry.

The cost to outfit the force's 13 full-time officers with the device is $5,000, a savings of more than 60 percent compared to what PepperBall typically charges police departments per officer, Muldrow said.

The PepperBalls would only be used in the most serious circumstances when there are direct threats to staff, students or school buildings, Muldrow said.

Reaction: After the presentation, several school board members stated their favorable impression of the device.

Among them was board president Margie Orr, who said the district has been lucky considering the rash of fatal school violence in recent years but added, “who’s to say that it won’t happen in the future?”

Fellow board member Diane Glover-Brown called the idea of having them on hand “a great idea,” especially in contrast to using a weapon that could potentially end someone’s life.

Board member James Sawor asked attending officers what they thought of the device.

"They have guns," Officer Quinn Johnson said, referring to outside threats with the level of shootings in York City.

"We put our lives on the line every single day ... and having this tool will help us so we can go home (to our families)," he added. 

York City School District Superintendent Eric Holmes also stated a favorable view of the PepperBalls, saying it adds to an officer's toolkit to better protect the district.

The York City School Board will consider whether to equip the district police department at its next regular board meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 20, according to  Orr.

The board will meet at the district’s administration office at 31 N. Pershing Ave, in York City.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect the correct distance of 150 feet in which the PepperBall can be used to help neutralize a threat, as well as inclusion of recent school shooting statistics and the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

The story has also been corrected to indicate the correct location of the Feb. 14 school shooting in Florida.