OFFICER MICHAEL Alvaro was in the right place at the right time to stop an armed-robbery on Feb. 25.
Sitting in his marked Philadelphia School District SUV on Olney Avenue near Broad Street, Alvaro said, he saw Tyree Pace, 15, approach three male Central High students with a knife and demand: "Give me everything you have."
Alvaro, 31, a school cop since 2001, called for backup, bolted toward Pace and caught him after a brief chase. But Pace, who has an extensive juvenile criminal record, didn't get cuffed without a fight. He spun and swung the knife at the officer, cutting into his bulletproof vest, Alvaro said.
Arraignment for Pace was scheduled for this morning, court records show.
With violent assaults on Philadelphia school officers increasing by nearly 20 percent in the last year, the officers and their union are pressing hard for the right to carry guns on the job. School and city officials have balked at that request in the past, and are reluctant to talk about it now.
But Alvaro — who was attacked one block from where city police officer John Pawlowski was gunned down Feb. 13 — is a strong proponent of the idea.
"We're in marked police vehicles, we're in full uniform, but we have no weapon to protect anybody," said Alvaro, who wrested a gun from a student outside Turner Middle School several years ago.
"Just by them issuing us a bulletproof vest tells us right there that they are putting us in danger," added Alvaro, a 1996 graduate of Abraham Lincoln High School.
Pace was charged as an adult with attempted murder, aggravated assault, possession of a weapon on school property and four other charges, according to court records.
At the time of his arrest, Pace was enrolled as a student at Community Education Partners, a school-district disciplinary school managed by a Tennessee company.
'In harm's way every day'
The union that represents the 400-officer school police force has for several years lobbied the school district to allow the roughly 100 patrol officers to carry guns.
"We put these guys out in harm's way every day with a vest, and we don't give them the equipment and the training to do the job," said Michael Lodise, president of the School Police Association of Philadelphia. "We're going to eventually have a casualty out here, there's no two ways about it with the climate out here today."
He noted that officers employed by universities in the city have guns, as do SEPTA cops, and that soon guns will be issued to animal-cruelty officers with the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Philadelphia School District officials declined to comment for this story. They issued a written statement contending that only one assault on a school officer in the last two years involved a weapon.
"These statistics do not justify the arming of Philadelphia school police officers....Furthermore, current Pennsylvania law does not allow the arming of school police officers," the statement said.
But Lodise said that that's not true.
"They're wrong when they said that," said Lodise. He said that the state's penal code gives school officers the power to make arrests on school property and the same authority as constables, who are armed.
Michael Race, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said that the Pennsylvania School Code does not address whether school officers can be armed.
A long-running debate
Whether to arm school cops is not a new debate. The officers' union raises the issue every time its contract is up for renewal, Lodise said. Former Mayor John Street and former city schools CEO Paul Vallas clashed over the issue, with the anti-gun Street winning.
Mayor Nutter's office did not immediately respond to a Daily News request for comment on the issue.
In many parts of the country, arming school cops is a standard practice. Of the six largest school districts, five employ armed officers: Los Angeles has 262 armed officers; Broward County, Fla., has 20 armed officers and 149 armed municipal officers; Dade County, Fla., has 172 armed officers; Clark County, Nev., has 150 armed officers. Chicago uses "hundreds of armed off-duty city officers," a spokesman said.
A spokeswoman for the New York City school district said that school officers and city officers who work in schools are not armed.
A growing problem here
Philadelphia had 234 assaults on school officers from September 2008 through last month, an 18 percent increase from 198 assaults in the same period a year earlier, according to the school district's Office of Climate and Safety.
Lodise, who has been with the school police for 35 years — the last 15 as union president — said that he supports arming only the 108 patrol officers, not the 292 officers assigned to school buildings.
If such a change were approved by the district, Lodise said, officers would not be permitted to have guns until after they had completed the education, training and certification requirements of the state's Lethal Weapons Training Act, or Act 235.
"As the police department does, we can have restraints and restrictions on the use and non-use of the weapons, that's all we're asking for," he said. "We don't want a catastrophe to happen here."
Patrol officers also should be issued guns, he said, because they enter school buildings alone at night when security alarms go off.
"When you go into these schools at nighttime by yourself, you never know what you're going to encounter, you have no idea," Lodise said.
Lt. Frank Vanore, a spokesman for the Philadelphia Police Department, said that Commissioner Charles Ramsey would support school patrol officers carrying guns if that's what the school district decides and the officers get the required training and certification.
"We do work well with them," Vanore said of school officers.
Alvaro, a former Air Force police officer, said that while working for the school district he has suffered concussions, a broken kneecap, a broken thumb and a dislocated jaw — courtesy of students, parents, trespassers and drug dealers.
Arming officers in what is one of the state's largest police forces should not be a difficult decision, Alvaro said.
"This is the perfect time — all these cops are getting killed for no reason," he said. "It's just a matter of time before one of us gets it. We're all in the same boat. I go to every funeral. All I'm asking for is for them to train us, equip us and protect us."
But Sheila Simmons, education director for Pennsylvania Citizens for Children and Youth, said that arming even patrol officers would be a bad idea.
"The problem is that they are still school police officers and they still have to go into schools, they are the first responders if there is an incident," she said.
"I just think guns and large groups of kids in an inside, enclosed area is a recipe for bad things to happen. All it takes is one bullet to hit one student and it would be a disaster."