All Havre de Grace schools will have a school resource officer through the end of the school year.
After a split vote on the issue last time, the Havre de Grace City Council unanimously approved another budget amendment Tuesday night granting $63,200 to expand the SRO program permanently by adding two additional, dedicated police patrol positions.
The funding is possible because the city has collected more real property taxes for fiscal year 2013 than projected by the state Department of Assessments and Taxation, Mayor Wayne Dougherty wrote in the new budget amendment.
One principal and two teachers told the council they were grateful for the amendment, and Dougherty said he has received many calls or e-mails supporting more school resource officers.
Council members Joe Smith and Barbara Wagner, who voted last time against expanding the SRO program through March, supported the new amendment.
Debbie Freels, principal of Meadowvale Elementary School, thanked the council for supporting the program and said it would make her and parents feel even better about protecting children and staff.
She came with an assistant principal, fourth-grade teacher, third-grade teacher and custodian. About 10 Harford County Public Schools employees were in the audience, after Councilman Bill Martin asked for a show of hands.
"We are all here this evening to express to you our gratitude for allowing us to have an SRO in all of our schools," Freels said. "As principal, my primary goal is maintaining the safety and security of not only the children in my building but my staff members and every visitor that walks through the door."
She said the officer came to Meadowvale on the day of the Sandy Hook shooting and immediately went over the school's plan for safety, which includes everyone being buzzed into the building and keeping all doors locked.
"We concluded that we have a pretty air-tight plan at Meadowvale," she said, but noted: "If someone comes to our door with an assault rifle, our plan is not going to prevent that person from entering our building."
Freels said she takes her job "very seriously" and considers everyone in the building part of her extended family.
"Knowing I would not be able to prevent [an attacker] from coming in was a huge, huge burden," she said.
When Meadowvale got an officer, "it not only made me feel more secure but it made my teachers and staff feel more secure and it made my parents feel more secure," she said.
The parent of a pre-kindergarten student told her that the child came home and said, "Mommy, the good guys were at school today."
"That mom felt secure that her child, her 4-year-old child, was going to be safe in the building," she said.
Freels added the officer provides many other services, can help children learn problem-solving, be part of the curriculum and facilitate elementary school children's transition to middle school.
A teacher at Havre de Grace Elementary School also said having an SRO at the school has made everyone feel "a lot safer" and gives the children a positive influence.
Councilman Randy Craig thanked everyone who supported this and noted the council "thankfully" voted at its last meeting to extend the program through March.
Councilman Joe Smith said he would be supporting the amendment this time and reiterated that his previous vote was not so much against the SRO program.
"It really has to do with process and questioning how things were being done," he said, noting it is "unfortunate and a little bit sad" that it takes an event like the Newtown shooting to get people to act.