Citing the recent shooting in Newtown, Conn., the Havre de Grace City Council narrowly approved a $40,000 budget amendment to add two more school resource officers to its daily patrol through March.
Mayor Wayne Dougherty said plans to add officers had been in the works for some time but the elementary school shooting brought the idea to the forefront.
"All of this was being planned before. The economic times was creating a lot of uncertainty and we didn't proceed at that time," he said.
Council members Joe Smith and Barbara Wagner voted against the budget amendment, saying more time is needed to study the proposal and consider the effectiveness of school resource officers. Councilman David Glenn was not at Monday's meeting.
Several residents also spoke at the council meeting, with mixed opinions on the budget amendment.
Dougherty's amendment, dated Jan. 3, says the Newtown shooting "has captured national attention and the safety of children while at school is at the forefront of parental concern."
"I have, therefore, increase[d] Police patrol at our schools, effective immediately. My intention is to reassure our parents and strongly discourage any misguided attempt to garner publicity while recent events capture our nation's attention," the amendment continues.
The amendment redirects $40,000 from the city's capital program toward police overtime to accommodate the additional patrol in city schools.
Police Chief Teresa Walter said she does not necessarily expect to actually spend that much money.
"The $40,000 is estimated to fund the additional cost of adding 2 School Resource Officers to the daily patrol while school is in session for the months of January and February," Dougherty wrote in the memo to the council. "During this time, I have tasked Chief Walter to look at enhancing school safety for the long-term, look at best practices being performed elsewhere in light of recent events and to provide recommendations for the remainder of this year and the upcoming budget."
Smith, who had previously come out in support of regulating semi-automatic weapons, tried to table the vote. He said although he "obviously" supported increased security in schools, he could not find much research on the effectiveness of school resource officers.
"I understand they're popular," he noted.
Walter said there are many philosophies on such officers and their roles have changed over time, and have changed based on the type of school environment.
Smith said he would also want to hear from parent-teacher associations about the impact the budget amendment would have.
Wagner, meanwhile, was concerned about going over the head of the Harford County Board of Education with the amendment.
"I don't want to see us take any action that would jeopardize that relationship," she said, adding she thinks "professional courtesy" needs to be extended to the board of education. "The [SRO] programs are already in place in schools. It's not going to change anything that's going to happen tomorrow."
Smith also said the process needs to be much more deliberate and involve the various government entities working together, especially if the goal is to possibly have the two additional officers become permanent.
"If you start to add SRO's to multiple jurisdictions, then there is going to be a need to hire a lot more people and hire a lot more officers to fill those roles," he said.
Councilman Randy Craig disagreed, saying "there comes a time to act" and explaining that the SRO program is very broad.
"The SRO program is not, as was discussed, an armed guard in a school. It's much bigger than that, it's much broader than that," he said. "The SRO program is important to this community and it's been successful."