Baltimore education officials plan to return school police officers to 30 schools this fall in an attempt to address safety concerns and build relationships between officers and students.

The plan, which was to be presented to the city school board Tuesday, will increase the number of schools with permanently assigned officers from seven to 37. It reverses a decision to pull officers out of schools last year after legislation failed in Annapolis that would have allowed them to be armed while in school buildings.

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Under the new plan, officers assigned to schools will be unarmed when inside the buildings and their weapons will be placed in lockboxes purchased by the school district. Twenty-eight armed officers will continue to patrol school grounds and surrounding communities.

Last year, the district reduced the number of schools with assigned officers from 75 to seven. It assigned other officers to patrol school grounds and surrounding communities while armed.

The redeployment plan is the first time the new schools CEO, Sonja Santelises, has signaled her administration's philosophy on the role of police in the city's schools, the subject of a divisive debate.

School officials would not identify which of the city's roughly 180 schools would be assigned officers, citing safety concerns. But they said the schools were chosen based on factors such as size, history of criminal incidents, administrator requests, past arrests for violent offenses and suspension rates.

The move was praised by educators who decried the decision to pull officers out of buildings, saying they serve as positive role models and keep schools safe.

"Our principals have been requesting this for the past year because destruction and violence spiked without the school police present," said Jimmy Gittings, president of the administrators union. "It seems that [the CEO and school board] are putting the safety of our students, teachers and principals as one of their top priorities."

Marietta English, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, said she was "extremely happy" about the move. She predicted that it "will significantly improve the schools climate and foster healthy relationships between the police, [union members,] students and parents."

The debate over school police reached a boiling point in the spring when a video of an officer slapping and kicking a student went viral. It was the second video showing an altercation between officers and students in as many years and reinforced complaints by civil rights groups that the officers used unnecessary force and led to calls that they be removed from schools.

Both incidents resulted in criminal charges against the officers involved. The chief of school police was placed on administrative leave, though school officials said he played no role in the slapping incident. He later resigned.

In the meantime, the district has noted high-profile incidents of violence, including the murder of a student who was stabbed in his high school science class and the armed robbery of another student who was picking up his graduation gown.

Sgt. Clyde Boatwright, president of the city school police union, said the city should be concerned that the 37 schools to which officers will be assigned have a history of violent incidents, and suggested they should be armed.

"We feel as though every officer should have every tool available to provide safety," he said. "It's an unrealistic expectation of safety to just have a warm body in the building, in uniform."

The district has acknowledged that the current strategy of officers patrolling only school grounds, not hallways, has limited officers' ability to build relationships with students and to be seen as mentors and coaches. Recent budget cuts have reduced the number of officers from 126 to 105.

Advocates who have raised the issue of the over-criminalization of students and police misconduct in the school system said the new strategy fails to address those concerns.

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Jenny Egan, a juvenile public defender who serves on the Maryland Coalition to Reform School Discipline, which has advocated reforms in school policing, called the redeployment "another blind measure that is not based in evidence."

She said the district has not produced data that proves the school police department's effectiveness in combating crime and improving climate, nor has it addressed issues such as the department's ballooning budget, hiring practices and policies outlining officers' roles and responsibilities.

"Only once a strong policy is in place, with clear data on school-based arrests and the effect of police in schools, can we then make an informed decision about whether or not Baltimore City needs a school police force and — if so — how they would best be utilized," Egan said.

The new plan includes continuing training in areas such as trauma, bias, cultural competence and de-escalation strategies.

It also calls for creating a professional standards unit that would consists of one supervisor and one detective to handle all internal affairs investigations and audits.

The district will continue to develop a student police advisory committee that was started in March.

David Pontious, student activist and recent graduate of Baltimore City College, said the plan "lays out codified steps toward greater accountability and better training which are sorely needed after several troubling incidents." He said he hopes the district also looks to increase transparency about the use of the force and its policies.

"Results, not plans, will be the ultimate judge of how committed the school police force is to improving," he said.

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