Council candidates praise school resource officers – but there’s no evidence they make schools safer

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Photo by Flickr user “Wonder woman0731″/Flickr Creative Commons.

By Emily R. Condon and Colin McNamara, Capital News Service

Amid nationwide concerns about school shootings and other violent incidents, all 24 school districts in Maryland have employed school resource officers at some point since the 2016-17 school year, and all except one still keep them.

But now, at least five years later, the state says it has no evidence that resource officers are making schools safer.

“In Maryland, we don’t have any data on whether real school resource workers are effective (or) working or not working,” said Michael Rudinski, regional training and certification specialist for the Maryland Center for School Safety.

Even so, in a recent Capital News Service survey, 34 school board candidates across the state cited school resource officers as key to school safety. All 102 candidates who participated agreed that school safety is an issue that needs to be addressed, and many candidates suggested increased access to mental health services as another possible solution.

The survey also asked applicants what was the most important issue facing their school board. Ten responded with school security. The only issues ranked more often as most important were pandemic-related learning loss, overall academic performance, and teacher shortages.

School Resource Officers

Rudinski explained that before the state’s 2018 Safe to Learn Act, there was no real definition of resource officers. The law defines school resource officers as law enforcement officers who have “a memorandum of understanding between a local law enforcement agency and a local school system” or who belong to the local police department. Baltimore City School.

Under the Safe to Learn Act, Rudinski’s office at the state Department of Education had trained all school resource officers in the state by September 1, 2019. The Maryland Center for School Safety trains officers to handle sensitive school situations, but school boards can put their own alternative training in place.

Shortly after this training ended, the COVID-19 pandemic closed the schools. Rudinski said this prevents his office from making a long-term assessment of the actual effectiveness of school resource officers.

School resource officers remain valuable despite a lack of data on their effectiveness, according to Christopher Fraley, Region 2 director of the National Association of School Resource Officers.

He pointed out, however, that resource officers are located in schools to prevent problems, but not to punish individual students.

“One of the biggest things that I think is sometimes confusing is that ORS should not be used for disciplinary reasons,” said Fraley, an Allegany County resident whose wife, Tammy Fraley, sits on the Allegany County School Board.

SROs and candidates

School board candidates across the state frequently mentioned school resource officers as the best way to keep schools safe. But these school cops do different things in different locations, prompting some candidates to voice concerns about how these officers are being used.

A Baltimore County District 4 candidate, Samay Kindra, said he fears the county will lead the state in resource officer arrests.

“This highlights the problem of the blurred line between situations where law enforcement intervention is appropriate and where school-based administrative procedures are appropriate,” Kindra said.

However, Howard County candidate Linfeng Chen said resource officers play a vital role, especially now with the national concern over school staffing shortages.

“School resource officers are important in maintaining a safe environment for students to learn,” Chen said. “It makes sense to have ORS now more than ever if we consider staffing shortages and increasing school conflict and acting out issues.”

Montgomery County stationed officers at schools beginning in 2002, following the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, but in 2021 — amid criticism that students of color were disproportionately disciplined of the SRO – the internal school officer program has ended.

Now Montgomery County has another form of school resource officers called community engagement officers. Commitment officers are not permanently stationed inside schools, but schools may request them to visit schools when needed.

But some candidates for Montgomery’s board have suggested that may not be enough. Scott Joftus, an outgoing board member seeking re-election in District 3, said more unarmed security officers may be needed at county schools. And Joftus’ opponent, Julie Yang, also called for changes.

“Recent incidents have highlighted the need to improve our schools’ intercom system, staff training on safety protocol procedures and crisis communication with the community,” Yang said.

Other security measures

Other candidates pointed out that school safety does not start and end with school resource officers. Many council candidates have suggested expanding access to mental health resources in schools across the state, while others have suggested combining that with additional safety measures.

“We need to make sure our buildings are safe, but we also need to address the mental health crisis within our student population,” said Wicomico County District 2 Board candidate Karin Miller. “It shouldn’t be about school resource officers OR social workers; they both have a role to play in creating a safe atmosphere within our schools.

Rae Gallagher, a candidate for the Frederick County board of directors, accepted.

“The security of school buildings is extremely important,” she said. “The most effective strategies for reducing school shootings include integrating programs that address student mental health, training teachers and educators on recognizing signs that a student may be considering harm or harm others, to ensure school buildings are secure, and to partner with state decision makers. level on common sense gun laws.

Other candidates pointed out that school resource officers and access to mental health are just parts of what should be a comprehensive approach to school safety.

“I will continue to advocate for funding new clean energy school buildings that are built with the features of secure main entrances and modern doors and locks; improving safe walking paths to schools and advocating for a fully staffed school crossing guard program; promote the mitigation of the spread of COVID-19 through a high vaccination rate; and, support budgets with increased services for bullying prevention and restorative approaches to conflict resolution,” said Pamela Boozer-Strother, who is running for re-election in Prince George’s County District 3.

Wicomico County District 1 candidate Luc Angelot said school safety has been on his mind for half his life.

“I am very concerned about the safety of the school,” said Angelot, who is 18. “I was 9 years old when the Sandy Hook filming took place. My generation grew up fearing that a possible shooting could happen at any moment.

That being the case, Angelot said, school safety must be a top priority.

“From my plan to make mental health a priority to continuing to work with local law enforcement, upgrading our buildings to be secure, and taking social media threats seriously, we can make things to make students feel safe,” he said.

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