Prompted by the newly passed Safe to Learn Act of 2018, the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office and the Carroll County Public School System have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to build and implement a Safe Schools Unit – School Resource Officer Program, the agencies said in a joint statement.
The law requires “each public school in Maryland to have either School Resource Officers (SROs) or adequate law enforcement coverage,” the statement said.
“Adequate coverage” does not mean an officer has to be present at all times, but that “reasonable” coverage is provided by either an SRO, or one SRO covering two nearby schools, or frequent community patrols, etc., said Carey Gaddis, the Supervisor of Community and Media Relations for the Carroll County Public School System. A plan that accounts for all 37 of the district’s schools – 22 elementary, eight middle, seven high schools – must be in place by 2020.
“The plan is to build the unit up over the next year or two,” said Cpl. Jon Light of the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office. The unit would be primarily staffed as a designated assignment in the department. Deputies entering the department would receive their standard training, then those selected for the Safe Schools Unit would receive additional training.
The county is currently covering the cost of the program out of its general fund, said Carroll County Board of Commissioners President Dennis Frazier. Training costs may be covered by the state Frazier believes. State funds may also be applied to “hardening” schools where necessary.
The budget for fiscal year 2019 includes 10 additional SRO positions, costing $1,741,520. Another 10 will be added in fiscal year 2020 at a cost of $2,760,110, which accounts for all 20 positions, according to a budget document provided by the Carroll County Commissioners’ Office.
The role of SROs was staffed primarily with deputies on overtime in the spring of 2018, and Light said that will continue into next year until the unit is built up. Currently the department employs 119 authorized, sworn deputies.
“In the wake of Parkland, every school system for several weeks received a lot of feedback from parents,” said Williams, referring to the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglass High School in Florida that left 17 people dead. “That’s a natural reaction following any school shooting, that there seems to be an increased awareness and an increased level of anxiety among parents with school security.”
Supervisor of Security and Emergency Management Duane Williams said he had input on the first round of SRO unit selection, and though he can’t control the personnel decisions of another agency, the district and sheriff’s office have a relationship that allows for input into building the program.
The program’s officers will be allowed to carry their service weapons in schools, both Frazier and Williams confirmed, as their main priority is building security.
“If they’re there to stop a potential person from coming in and shooting up the school, you have to be armed,” Frazier said of the officers’ potential to intercede in a school shooting or similar situation. “What are you going to stop them with?“
The sheriff’s office and the school system both emphasized the SRO’s responsibility will be security, and they will not intervene in disciplinary issues at schools.
“The primary goal of the Safe Schools Unit will be to provide a safe and secure environment that is conducive for student learning,” the statement said.
Though there has been some trepidation from community members about the potential for increased interaction between students and law enforcement, and the chance for those instances to escalate what would be school matters to legal matters, the majority of community reaction has been supportive of the policy, Frazier, Gaddis and Williams all asserted.
“They are there to provide law enforcement services as far as response to incidents or in response to criminal matters, but the school is still in charge of the discipline and the normal day-to-day operations of school events,” said Light. “Anything that the school would currently, without a deputy assigned to a school, anything they would call us for now, that School Resource Officer will handle instead of taking another unit off the road.”