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Corporal Ronnie McCain, center, speaks to students attending camp at Vanguard Middle School.
Corporal Ronnie McCain, center, speaks to students attending camp at Vanguard Middle School. (Algerina Perna)

Department of Justice investigators said the Baltimore Police Department relied on school police officers to supplement patrols throughout the city — a practice they said muddied lines of accountability within the two departments.

The police department "essentially used the Baltimore School Police as an auxiliary force to BPD," the investigators wrote.

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Under a memorandum of understanding with the city police department, school police officers have jurisdiction and power of arrest throughout the city.

Justice Department investigators found that officers of the school police department often filled staffing shortages on the city police force, responded to calls and made arrests.

"This creates considerable risks for both the officers and members of the public because lines of authority are not clear if a crisis of some kind arises," the investigators wrote.

They said questions of accountability were of particular concern when officers from both agencies responded to incidents in which officers had to use force.

The school district noted Wednesday that it entered a new memorandum of understanding with the police department in February. The Justice Department report covered the years from 2010 to 2015.

"We are reviewing the Department of Justice report and its implications in light of the new agreement," the district said in a statement.

The Justice Department found that school police were mentioned in several internal affairs files reviewed by investigators.

Videos have surfaced in the last year showing two violent altercations between school police officers and students. Both cases resulted in criminal charges being filed against officers.

Local and national civil rights advocates and organizations have called on the Justice Department to expand its investigation to include the school police department.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund argued that "the expansion of DOJ's probe to include the school police force is necessary because of the close working relationship that BPD has with the school police."

The city police department, which was also cited for using unreasonable force against juveniles, told investigators that they sent complaints about school police officers to school police force administrators to investigate.

But investigators also found instances where the city police department refused to take complaints from private citizens/residents about school police misconduct, did not refer them to any other oversight authority or agency, and did not do due diligence to determine whether police were acting under the city police department's authority.

"This failure similarly undermines accountability and community confidence in both BPD and the school police," the report said.

Investigators also expressed concerns about the lack of a paper trail of school police activity when they served as citywide law enforcement. They wrote that while the agreement requires school police to file incident and arrest reports, it does not appear to require them to file reports on searches and stops, and that in all instances data is not being properly collected and analyzed.

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The findings come amid a debate about the future of the school police department. Last year, legislation failed in the General Assembly that would have allowed officers permanently assigned to school buildings to carry their weapons inside school buildings -- which officers had been doing in violation of state law for years.

Sen. Bill Ferguson, who has repeatedly questioned the need for a school police force, said the justice department's review "implicates the systemic challenges presented by a school system running a police department."

"As the only district in the state of Maryland that functions in this way, I believe now more than ever that there has to be a serious reassessment of the function and purpose of Baltimore city public schools operating a police department," he said.

On Tuesday, the school district announced a plan to place 30 unarmed officers back in schools and leave 28 patrolling school campuses and surrounding communities. The plan also committed to continuous training and creation of a new professional standards unit.

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