School detective cites vaping, social media among key issues in districts –

School detective Jerry Markle poses outside the Butler Area School District administration building on Friday, March 22. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle

Gerald “Jerry” Markle has served as the school detective in Butler County for seven months, spending his time trying to prevent outside issues from trickling into the classroom.

Having served as a state trooper for 27 years and as a school police officer for 16 years at Butler, Mars and Moniteau school districts, Markle said he is often warning students of the severe consequences of their actions involving social media and drugs.

“I think the thing I was excited about was intervening before things get too bad,” he said. “You give me a problem, I will develop a plan to solve it.”

Often, the problems he addresses happen outside Butler County’s schools.

“Many of the things I’m seeing are not occurring in schools. I’m made aware of them before it travels into the school,” he said.

For example, he said if bullying, threats or the use of illegal substances are detected, he will directly address them with students in his office in Butler’s administration building.

“I’m calling in the parents and student in about what they have, I’m verifying it’s THC. I say, ‘I’ll be charging you with a small amount of marijuana or paraphernalia,’” he said.

This type of enforcement is something not every police department can offer due to low staffing, he said. Partly for that reason, the school detective position was conceived to serve all the school districts in Butler County, as well as private schools, according to District Attorney Richard Goldinger.

Goldinger said Markle’s role has become something beyond what they had imagined.

“It has evolved. I know when I hired him he had sort of a vision and I liked that,” he said.

Vaping, social media

Social media often points Markle to illegal activities involving students. The activities going on outside of school hours might include students possessing stolen road signs, drinking alcoholic beverages while underage or vaping.

Eric Ritzert, Karns City Area School District superintendent, and Alfonso Angelucci, Slippery Rock Area School District superintendent, both said they were pleased with the help Markle has given them related to these issues.

“What I feel has been beneficial is a point of contact our school and school police have with him,” Ritzert said. “Social media has been hard for us as a school to confront because its from outside the school setting.”

Angelucci said high school administration has particularly found Markle to be a valuable resource.

“Vaping and social media are the top two issues our secondary principal has been dealing with,” he said.

Vaping was also among the top concerns for Markle and Goldinger, but Markle noted the problem of vaping is typically limited to the high schools.

“Every school in the county is dealing with it,” Markle said.

But he doesn’t think its an “overwhelming” problem.

“It’s not like we have 20,000 students and 19,000 are vaping,” he said.

Markle said students are sometimes found with vaping devices at the school’s morning bag check or throughout the day in between classes.

Another way to find out when students are using vape products is through detectors.

According to Ritzert, the installation of Halo vape detectors in the bathrooms at Karns City Jr./Sr. High School has been one way to discourage students from bringing them into school. That being said, he acknowledged some students will also continue to find loopholes.

“Students try to work their way around setting them off,” he said.

Markle said he relies on school resource officers to cite students who have nicotine vape cartridges.

Cartridges laced with more illicit substances, such as marijuana, involve Markle issuing criminal charges.

“If it’s THC, now you’re getting into a misdemeanor,” he said. “The crime code says if you do this, I’m filing a juvenile petition against you.”

Brian White, superintendent or Butler Area School District, said THC products are in significant use.

“I attribute this to the ease of access since they are legal products for those 18 and over with a medical card,” he said. “Also, depending on the percentage of THC, the vape cartridges can be obtained over the counter by individuals who are 18 and over.”

Markle said each school has a different approach for students…

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