Comprehensive plan, more cooperation needed on school security, Harford board member says

A Harford County Board of Education member says the school system needs to establish a more comprehensive policy to ensure the safety and security of students and staff in light of the Newtown, Conn., shootings last month.

"While we have certain policies in [the policy manual] regarding the conduct of police officers in our buildings as it relates to conducting investigations, we didn't have a have a policy that actually regarded what I considered to be the umbrella of all that, which is the safety and security of facility, students and staff that occupy our buildings," board member Robert Frisch said.

Speaking during Monday night's school board meeting in Bel Air, Frisch stressed the need to make cooperative decisions regarding safety and security, not unilateral ones, among them how many police officers will be assigned to patrol schools on a daily basis, commonly referred to as school resource officers.

"We depend on law enforcement agencies to have school resource officers in our facilities, and we depend on local governments to fund those police officers in our schools," said Frisch, a Joppatowne resident, who is also a teacher with Baltimore County Public Schools. "We have to recognize that that is a cooperative relationship."

"Unilateral decisions don't help our situation," Frisch added. "We need to be working with all the best minds together."

Frisch's comments came a week after the Havre de Grace Mayor and City Council decided to deploy two additional city police officers on a daily basis at the city's two elementary schools, citing the Connecticut shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School that killed 20 students and six adults who worked at the school. Mayor Wayne Dougherty asked for and received city council approval to spend up to $40,000 for the increased patrols on a trial basis through March.

In the past, school resource officers have been assigned only to the county's high and middle schools each school day, although they also have typically been available to respond as needed at elementary schools in the vicinity of their regular assignments.

A source with knowledge of the situation said school administration officials tried to dissuade Havre de Grace officials from assigning police officers at Havre de Grace and Meadowvale elementary schools, on the grounds that the city government did not have the right to take such unilateral action without school board approval. The city, however, rejected that claim.

School Board member Thomas Fitzpatrick, who lives in Havre de Grace, also addressed the city's decision about the additional resource officers during Monday's school board meeting.

"All of us here recognize the importance of public safety. I'm very pleased to report that [the Havre de Grace City Council's] decision to fund the additional SROs for Havre de Grace schools was very well received in our community," Fitzpatrick said.

"Some of us on the board learned about the SRO decision from the [The Aegis] newspaper, which was a little surprising," Fitzpatrick added. "But, all-in-all, everyone has been very pleased with the program and we look forward to having a cooperative relationship with all of our fellows in Harford County government, town government and in law enforcement, as we move forward to secure the safety and security of all of our [Harford County Public Schools] community."

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