Wednesday, August 12, 2020
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Md. bill would put armed SRO in every school

Now under consideration in the Maryland General Assembly is a series of four bills aimed at making schools safer against an active shooter or other threat, reports Zach Shapiro of Capital News Service via Maryland

The package of bills is focused on four primary goals:

  • Prevention
  • Deterrence

  • Anticipation
  • Protection

The deterrence bill, Senate Bill 1264, would put one armed school resource officer, a sworn peace officer, in every single public school in the state.

The news service quoted state Sen Steve Waugh, a Republican from St Mary’s County and the bill’s sponsor, as saying it would “have the most immediate effect to reduce risks—today.”

But it would be expensive, according to a fiscal report attached to the bill. Among the 1,400 public schools in the state, about 400 now have armed SROs, leaving about a thousand schools that would have to be staffed. In the first year, the payroll expenses for those police officers would be a little over $100,000 each. They would need fully equipped tactical units (a car), at a cost of about $60,000 each, and training at the police academy for the specialized work in school at a cost of about $60,000 as well.

That means the total cost in the first year for jurisdictions in the state would be about $224 million, although that’s really the only bad news.

Not everybody agrees this is the most effective way to spend that much money, although there’s bipartisan support for the motive behind the bills. Having police officers near students most often makes them feel safe, which helps them keep their minds focused on learning what they need to learn. The strategy also helps foster good relations between young citizens and the police departments that protect them in their communities and schools.

“We’re working from those early ages to try to repair those relationships, where people are trying to put fear in the police,” Carroll County Sheriff Jeff Gahler told lawmakers, the news service reported. “The students trust the school resource officers and feed us information on all kinds of different crime issues facing our area. I think those relationships have to be fostered.”

Also under consideration:

  • SB 1262 would provide local sheriffs with a specialized school crisis welfare officer and improve background checks.
  • SB 1263 would create threat assessment teams in schools, made up of principals, teachers, and possibly others, to evaluate students.
  • SB 1265 would equip schools with locks on all classroom doors and safe zones in every classroom by 2020-21.

Some educators say they have discovered over the past few years that the “stay hidden and locked down” strategy doesn’t work, as advocated in SB 1265. Staff at Kaneland High School in Maple Park, Illinois, say they are converting their strategy to fighting back and getting away.

“There’s going to be more training, and we’ve been shifting our thinking these last couple of years,” reporter Corinne Condos quoted teacher Kenneth Dentino as saying in the Kaneland Krier, the student newspaper at the far-west suburban school. “Opposed to a ‘stay put and hide’ kind of mindset, we’re going to fight back and we’re going to get away.”

Mr Dentino has support from at least one SRO, too. “I don’t want you guys to have that scared mentality,” the paper quoted Officer Sarah Conley as saying. “Yeah, everyone’s going to be scared, staff’s going to be scared, but I want to teach you guys how to get past that, use that fear to your advantage and know that you have the tools and the ability to survive. I just want you guys to feel empowered and not fear the future.”

But as for SB 1264, Bridget Murphy, a student at Linganore High School in Frederick, Maryland, is all in on the idea of having an armed SRO in the schools. “Guns can protect people or guns can hurt people: we need to make sure that they are only put in the right hands,” she writes in The Lance, the student newspaper at that school.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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