From Staff Reports
OAKLAND — The Garrett County commissioners will provide funding for the placement of two school resource law enforcement officers in the public schools, according to a news release. The commissioners will provide about $88,000 per officer, according to Monty Pagenhardt, county administrator.
One officer will be assigned to the Northern Garrett High/Middle School Complex and one will be placed at Southern Garrett High School. Clark Warnick and Dave McLaughlin, county sheriff’s deputies, will move into the school positions. Two correction officers will be transfered to deputy positions and two correctional staff will be hired at the department, according to Pagenhardt.
County Commissioner Gregan Crawford, who serves as as a nonvoting member on the Garrett County Board of Education, thanked Sheriff Rob Corley, Pagenhardt and Superintendent of Schools Janet Wilson for quickly working to address security needs in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shooting in which 20 school children and six adults were killed.
“Through their efforts, the presence of SROs and implementation of additional security measures that they have identified, parents of school-aged children, including myself, can be reassured that concerns are being addressed to make our schools safer,” Crawford said in the news release. “I support their recommendations and will work to see that they are funded and implemented.”
In the aftermath of the Newtown shooting, Gov. Martin O’Malley’s fiscal 2014 budget is proposing $25 million to help Maryland schools upgrade security systems with features such as shatterproof glass and automatically locking doors, according to media sources. The money is part of $336 million in the capital budget for school construction projects. If the funds are approved, a third officer will be assigned to Southern Garrett Middle School, according to Pagenhardt.
“We will proceed with the placement of officers with or without the state funding,” said Pagenhardt.
Corley said that as a drug education officer and sheriff he knows firsthand the effect of positive police interaction with students.
“The decision by county government and the board of education to place school resource officers in the Garrett County school system is an instrumental step in keeping our students safe,” said Corley in a news release. “Our children are our most valuable resource. They are future sheriffs, teachers, community leaders and sports heroes. The SROs will not only serve as a safety net for the schools but more importantly serve as role models and mentors. I look forward to working with the board of education and my staff in creating the most effective school resource officer program that we can.”
Wilson said she looks forward to working collaboratively with Corley and his staff to develop a program that “will add an additional tool in our quest to provide a safe learning environment for our students and school communities.”
Cynthia Downton, the president of the board, who served for the past seven years as a pupil personnel worker in Allegany County, said she originally questioned the need for officers in school.
“Along with many other people, I originally questioned the need for police within the school building, but have changed my opinion as I became familiar with their role in the total school environment,” Downton said in the news release. “Their unique training focuses on school law, school safety and de-escalating potential crisis situations. Creating a rapport with our students and even helping with lessons in the classroom allow our students to see the officers as a positive influence in the community.”
Thomas Carr, a member of the board, sees the officers as a positive influence.
“During the time I served as president of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, I learned from my counterparts in other counties what a positive influence school resource officers have on school communities,” Carr said. “They are not only helpful in the day–to–day running of the school, but students learn to trust them, and this trust often helps diffuse bad or even dangerous situations before they happen.”