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Cal U. hosts school shooting prevention forum for law enforcement

With reports of mass shootings becoming all too frequent, local law enforcement officials gathered at California University of Pennsylvania this week to learn how to best coordinate a response if the worst comes to pass.

The school is hosting a School Shooting Prevention Leadership Forum that began Wednesday and will wrap up today. The forum was put together by the FBI National Academy Associates (FBINAA) and the School Safety Advocacy Council (SSAC).

“The audience is mostly law enforcement for this program,” said John Kennedy, the director of training and education for the FBINAA. “We do have school administrators as well. We also have other public safety officials here too, such as fire and EMS.”

There were about 90 participants in the program, which had a $300 registration fee. Kennedy said the main goals of the program were to provide the attendees with the “knowledge, skills and resources” necessary to make their schools and communities more secure, and to also be able to put together response plans in conjunction with school administrators and other law enforcement agencies.

“We’ll take a look at what’s happened in the past, some of the lessons learned and then hopefully be able to give the participants enough information to go back to their communities to start developing response plans within their schools,” Kennedy said.

Among the speakers is retired officer Tony Pustizzi. Pustizzi was the chief of the Coral Springs Police Department and responded to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

In the wake of the the February 2018 shooting that left 17 dead, local officials came under scrutiny for their slow response. Sheriff Scott Israel was ultimately removed from his post, and four deputies were fired.

“What happened in some of the school shootings, the response plans weren’t coordinated with local police, county police, school resource officers (and) school administrators,” Kennedy said.

Ken Truver, a member for the FBINAA’s executive board and the Castle Shannon chief of police, said that when it comes to cooperation among different departments, Western Pennsylvania is among the best in the country.

“In Western Pennsylvania, we’re a model for the rest of the nation in terms of collaboration for putting on training and communication among law enforcement officials at all levels of government,” Truver said.

Truver added that the Western Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association, Allegheny County Chiefs of Police Association and the local chapter of the FBINAA have worked together for several years to organize training.

“We collaborate. We know each other. We train together. ... That relationship is envied by other places in the nation,” Truver said.

While the forum was specifically geared toward law enforcement, Kennedy and Truver also had advice for students in the event they notice any threats or concerning behavior on social media: If you see something, say something.

“There’s an interesting statistic – 81% of the school shootings, someone had prior knowledge of the attacker’s plan, and that is critical. Somebody was not sharing that information,” Kennedy said. “Report it to the campus police, and let the professionals investigate it to see if it is a credible threat.”

California University of Pennsylvania offers ALICE (Alert, Lockdown Inform, Counter, Evacuate) training to students, faculty and staff so they can be prepared in an active shooter situation.

Celeste Van Kirk / Celeste Van Kirk/Observer-Reporter 


Celeste Van Kirk/Observer-Reporter

Lt. Governor John Fetterman speaks Wednesday during the Washington County Gay Straight Alliance Inc. announcement ceremony.

Washington Gay Straight Alliance Announces Pride Festival

In 2005, Kathy McCully Cameron started a Gay Straight Alliance to provide services and support for gay, lesbian and transgender youth in Washington County.

The organization continued to grow, and in 2012 the non-profit incorporated and began operating as the Washington County Gay Straight Alliance Inc.

The Gay Straight Alliance, Cameron said, is ready for the next steps in visibility and acceptance in Washington County.

On Wednesday, Cameron stood on the steps of the Washington County Courthouse, surrounded by members and allies of the gay, lesbian and transgender community, to celebrate the announcement of the city of Washington’s first Pride Festival.

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman – who in 2013, as mayor of Braddock, officiated the first same-sex wedding conducted in Allegheny County, in defiance of Pennsylvania law – declared the festival date: Saturday, June 27, 2020.

The festival will be held at the Community Pavilion on South Main Street in Washington.

“How awful and foreign a concept is it now to think that it wasn’t that long ago in Pennsylvania that you weren’t allowed to marry who you love?” asked Fetterman, who went on to conduct 24 more same-sex marriage ceremonies.

During the announcement, Fetterman vowed to work, along with Gov. Tom Wolf, to ensure members of the LGBTQ community cannot be denied rights, including employment and rent.

“To me, it’s always been equal protection under the law, nothing less, nothing more. You can’t be fired or denied employment or services based on who you love or how you identify. That’s just wrong.”

As Madonna and Cher songs played over the speakers, a crowd of about 100 – some wearing buttons identifying them as allies and others donning T-shirts bearing the LGBTQ rainbow colors – gathered for the festival announcement.

Also participating in the announcement ceremony were several local officials, including Washington Mayor Scott Putnam, who presented Fetterman with a proclamation thanking him for his commitment to fighting for the rights of the LGBTQ community.

Said Washington County Commissioner Harlan Shober, “If you look around at what’s happening in our nation, there’s little respect and dignity going on in many places, and I think we need to understand that love overcomes hate. Here in Washington County, it’s a start. We’re going to have love in Washington County and no hate.”

Washington County Court of Common Pleas Judge John DiSalle told the crowd it is people’s differences and diversity that make the United States a great nation.

“We’re experiencing trying times lately. Hate-mongering seems to be en vogue. The disparagement and disrespect and discrimination of races and religions and identity and gender is rampant and seems to be coming from the highest levels,” DiSalle said. “But we are much more alike than we are different, and it’s our differences that define us and make us one people.”

Celeste Van Kirk / Celeste Van Kirk/Observer-Reporter 


Celeste Van Kirk/Observer-Reporter

Kathy Cameron, with Washington County Gay Straight Alliance Inc., held a ceremony Wednesday to announce that the first Washington pride festival will be held June 27, 2020.

Report shows US deficit to exceed $1 trillion next year

WASHINGTON – The federal budget deficit is expected to balloon to more than $1 trillion in the next fiscal year under the first projections taking into account the big budget deal that President Donald Trump and Congress reached this summer, the Congressional Budget Office reported Wednesday.

The return of $1 trillion annual deficits comes despite Trump’s vow when running for office that he would not just balance the budget but pay down the entire national debt.

“The nation’s fiscal outlook is challenging,” said Phillip Swagel, director of the nonpartisan CBO. “Federal debt, which is already high by historical standards, is on an unsustainable course.”

The office upped this year’s deficit projection by $63 billion and the cumulative deficit projection for the next decade by $809 billion. The higher deficit projections come even as the CBO reduced its estimate for interest rates, which lowers borrowing costs, and as it raised projections for economic growth in the near term.

The number crunchers at CBO projected that the deficit for the current fiscal year will come to $960 billion. In the next fiscal year, which begins Oct 1, it will exceed $1 trillion.

The CBO said the budget deal signed into law earlier this month, which took away the prospect of a government shutdown in October and the threat of deep automatic spending cuts, would boost deficits by $1.7 trillion over the coming decade. Increased spending on disaster relief and border security would add $255 billion. Downward revisions to the forecast for interest rates will help the picture, trimming $1.4 trillion.

Swagel said the federal debt will rise even higher after the coming decade because of the nation’s aging population and higher spending on health care.

To put the country on sustainable footing, Swagel said, lawmakers will have to increase taxes, cut spending or combine the two approaches.

The CBO projects that the economy will expand more slowly, from 2.3% this year to 1.8% on average in the next four years. The assumption reflects slower growth in consumer spending and government purchases, as well as the effect of trade policies on business investment.

It also projects the unemployment rate will remain close to its current level of 3.7% through the end of 2020 and then rises to 4.6% by the end of 2023.

The CBO’s estimate is the first to reflect the hard-won budget and debt deal signed into law earlier this month.

“The recent budget deal was a budget buster, and now we have further proof. Both parties took an already unsustainable situation and made it much worse,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the private Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

MacGuineas said lawmakers should ensure the legislation they enact is paid for and redouble efforts to control the growth in health care costs and restore the solvency of the Social Security program. Her organization is focused on educating the public on issues with significant fiscal policy impact.

Senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway pivoted to the president’s desire to fund the military and other programs when asked about the report.

“We’re always concerned about the deficit,” Conway said. “We also need to fund a lot of the projects and programs that are important to this country.”

Submitted photo 

Michael Phillips

Submitted photo

Courtesy of Stephanie Phillips

Michael Phillips spent his summer riding bulls.

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Woman struck and killed by train in Charleroi

A unidentified woman was struck and killed by a train Tuesday night in Charleroi.

The Washington County coroner’s office was seeking help from the public in identifying the woman who was killed near Seventh Street and Railroad Way.

The woman was killed about 10:15 p.m. by a Norfolk Southern train while she attempted to cross a railroad track on foot, the office of Coroner Tim Warco said.

She was pronounced dead at the scene at 11:35 p.m. The cause and manner of her death were pending further investigation, Warco said.

The northbound coal train was en route to Strawberry Ridge at the time of the incident, Norfolk Southern spokeswoman Rachel McDonnell Bradshaw said.

She said it is extremely dangerous, and also trespassing, to walk on or within the right-of-way of railroad tracks.

“People should cross tracks only at designated crossings and use extreme caution at all times,” Bradshaw said.

Railroad employees assisted Charleroi Regional police at the scene.

Anyone with information that could help identify the woman was asked to call the coroner’s office at 724-228-6785.