Say hello to Warwick School District’s new SRO

By on September 21, 2016
Peter “PJ” Savage of the Lititz Borough Police Department is filling the newly-created position of school resource officer in the Warwick School District.

Peter “PJ” Savage of the Lititz Borough Police Department is filling the newly-created position of school resource officer in the Warwick School District.

When Warwick High School students returned for classes Sept. 7, they probably noticed someone new in the halls.

It wasn’t necessarily a new teacher, student or principal, although there were certainly a few of those. It was the new SRO, and his name is Peter Savage.

“The first thing people ask me is, ‘What is an SRO?’” says Savage. “It’s a school resource officer.”

Savage is the first-ever SRO for the Warwick School District, and his office is located at the high school. He will be spending most of his time at the high school and middle school, although he will be serving the district’s four elementary schools from time to time, as well as participating in other school-related events.

He essentially offers a police presence at the schools. He wears a police uniform and he is equipped to handle a variety of policing issues.

He has been a police officer with the Lititz Borough Police Department since 2003, previously serving as a police officer in Akron Borough.

In many ways, Savage’s presence at Warwick High School is part of the legacy of Robin Felty, who served as assistant superintendent for Warwick until she was named as superintendent at the Manheim Township School District earlier this summer.

Felty had worked hard to get an SRO in place for Warwick. In 2015, she applied for a grant on behalf of the school district to fund an SRO. Felty and school district officials were disappointed to learn the grant request was denied.

In the meantime, Lititz Borough Police Department was pursuing the implementation of an SRO at the school district in partnership with the borough. Savage and police officer Ken Wolfe were being prepared for that possibility and attended SRO classes with the National Association of Security Resource Officers.

“I did my training in Connecticut. It was a 40-hour training program,” says Savage, even though funding had not yet been determined.

Then, this past spring, Warwick School District and Lititz Borough joined forces to provide funds for the SRO. The borough and school district would share the cost of the $80,000 salary. Half of that cost is being covered by Lititz Borough, along with potential contributions from other municipalities in the school district. The remaining $40,000 is budgeted by the Warwick School District.

As Lititz Borough Police Chief Kerry Nye reports, Savage completed his SRO training and will be working Monday through Friday at the schools. He will also provide coverage at larger special events like prom and sports championships.

“He is still be a borough employee,” says Nye, adding that Savage will likely work hours during the summer at the Lititz Police Department.

For the school district, having an in-school police presence as an SRO is important for safety related training, developing school safety plans and procedures, providing a positive role model, and serving as a catalyst to bring the school and community together. Savage’s SRO training prepares him to assist in situations such as child abuse, adolescent stress, and students with special needs.

“Here at the high school, I have an open door policy with students, teachers and administrators,” says Savage.

He is certainly well-prepared for police work. His father, Peter Savage Jr., was with the Manor Township Police Department for 27 years, then 10 years with the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office.

“I grew up with it,” says Savage III, although he initially set out to study political science at the University of Pittsburgh after he graduated from Manheim Township High School in 1995.

He was interested in going into international affairs or working for the CIA. After graduating from Pitt in 1999, Savage found that police work was beckoning him. He attended the Police Academy in Harrisburg in 2000 and worked in Akron, then Lititz.

As Warwick’s first SRO, Savage feels that his most important mission is to forge relationships. He wants students to know that they can come to him with their concerns, whether it’s bullying, discrimination, depression, drugs, or just someone to talk to.

“My role is to be a teacher and a mentor,” says Savage.

He is well aware that many young people regard the police with trepidation. He wants young people to know that he is a resource for them, not someone who they have contact with only when they are in trouble.

Savage’s presence as a SRO also means that students, teachers, and administrators have a resource for concerns that in the past may have been vague. In the past, Warwick School District has had issues with racism, inappropriate teacher-student relationships, and sexual harassment by some teachers. There was no clear-cut procedure for reporting these problems.

“That all changed with the Sandusky case at Penn State,” says Savage. “Now there are state, county, and district-wide procedures in place. When concerns are expressed, they are taken seriously.”

That means that if a student feels that he or she is facing racism or any type of discrimination, that student can go to an SRO who is trained to handle these types of situations. Likewise, if improper teacher conduct is reported, it will be addressed and not ignored because no one knows how to handle it.

Students can go to Savage if they are facing abuse at home, if they have drug problems, are being bullied, or have seen someone else being abused or bullied. If they hear about threats being made, or suspect any type of problem, they have a resource who is trained to handle the situation.

“If there is ever a violent situation or any attack at the school, I am on the front line,” says Savage. “It is important to have someone right here at the school.”

Of course, Savage hopes that building his relationships with young people in the Warwick School District will be more about being a mentor and sounding board when they face the usual teen issues.

“Mostly, I am here to help them learn and succeed, and to set an example on how law enforcement works with the community to keep everyone safe,” says Savage.

Laura Knowles is a freelance feature writer and regular contributor to the Record Express. She welcomes feedback and story ideas at lknowles21@gmail.com.

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