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December 07, 2016
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Pike inmate security and state violence reduction effort

Pike County Sheriff Phil Bueki
TRR photo by David Hulse

MILFORD, PA — Early last year, in the wake of the Newtown school massacre, Pennsylvania and many other states decided to take a look at how they were handling school security, bullying, gun ownership, gang violence and other issues related to violent crime.

Glenn Pasewicz, executive director of the Joint State Government Commission, said a 34-member advisory committee was authorized by the PA state senate to look at laws applicable to these topics, as well mental illness and treatment, education issues and cultural influences including violent video games.

Because of his long history with the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program, Pike County Sheriff Phil Bueki was asked to serve. The committee reported in December and called for amendment, revocation or creation of some 15 state laws, Bueki told the county commissioners on January 16.

At the top of his remarks, Bueki assured gun owners that neither legal gun ownership, nor the privacy of their homes would be impacted by the changes. “I hold gun ownership close to my heart. I’m very pro-gun, pro-family and pro-Constitution,” he said.

That said, he reported that some gun-related laws are no longer pertinent. He cited an 1840s law which provided that someone convicted of armed robbery had 60 days to surrender the weapon. “Now we’ll have immediate confiscation.”

He said the committee recommended common-sense changes to make schools safer.

There will be legislation to address electronic bullying; 80% of elementary school students admit that have been subjected to it.

Pennsylvania will not arm school teachers and administrators, but there will be $15 to $20 million for school police and their training, he said.

Bueki said he is not an advocate of additional electronic monitoring at school entrances, but legislators will incorporate anything the schools feel necessary to improve security. “Do I want it… not really, but maybe it’s something we have to go to.”

Commissioners’ Chair Rich Caridi commended the sheriff for his efforts to help “close the loopholes and protect the law-abiding.”

Courthouse security issues

Bueki also commented during a subsequent discussion about the need for prisoner housing and security that the new court addition would provide. The proposed addition would provide three separate secure passages for prisoners, judges and juries, and the public. Bueki said, “We moved 1,232 inmates through court (in 2013). They have to be separated. None of the others like child molesters and if one is murdered, who gets the $10 million lawsuit? We had 160 juveniles and they can’t be in view or earshot of the adults. We had 48 inmates in custody (at the old jail) one day last week… in a jail that was condemned in the 1980s; 20 or 25 in one cell, chained in the hallway or in closets. It’s a nightmare,” he said.

The sheriff said gang-related crime began about eight years ago and gangs still exist here. Some of his prisoners are gang members “and when they go to trial, they’re going to try to escape in transit to the courthouse. I have deputies on the street with shotguns and innocent people out shopping along the sidewalk… The gangs are here. It’s a reality of today,” he said.