The Baltimore City school police display weapons confiscated from students and adults on school grounds. They are asking the city delegation to reconsider tabling a bill that would allow them to be armed. (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun)
Before a display of pellet and replica guns, pocket knives, brass knuckles, a torch and even a sock stuffed with a can of corn confiscated from schools, the leader of the city school police union called on state lawmakers to reconsider a bill that would arm officers while they patrolled schools.
The city delegation killed legislation this month that would have lifted restrictions on when city school police officers can carry weapons after the measure sharply divided Baltimore parents, politicians, educators and advocates. And at least one delegation leader said it is virtually impossible for the bill to be resurrected this session.
But Sgt. Clyde Boatwright, president of the city school police union, said he hopes lawmakers will see they made a mistake. He and others in his department hope a rare look at weapons school police have retrieved and a rally on Saturday will change minds.
Boatwright on Monday showed more than 200 weapons that have been recovered from high schools since September. He called the display on three 6-foot-tables, which included a meat cleaver, a stun gun and a sword, "our daily reality."
School police have recovered more than 915 weapons over the past four years.
"The delegation had an opportunity to ensure safety in our schools, and unfortunately this was a missed opportunity that I'm concerned could costs us significantly down the road," Boatwright said.
School police officers can now carry weapons as they patrol outside schools but must be unarmed inside school buildings.
Boatwright said school police would have a hard time defending themselves and others against some weapons — such as an 8-inch slicer knife he displayed.
He said he witnessed the last time a student died on school grounds — in 2008, when a 15-year-old died from stab wounds. Boatwright said the weapons on display reflect conditions students face in and out of school.
"Our kids understand the dangers of Baltimore City, so they arm themselves with the tools to get home," he said.
The bill to arm school police officers — a campaign that dates back more than 30 years — was introduced on behalf of the city school board and schools CEO Gregory Thornton. Officials said it would bring policies for school police into line with local police departments in other jurisdictions that are assigned to protect schools.
Baltimore is the only jurisdiction in Maryland with a school-based police force.
Thornton said he had hoped this year's bill would pass, but said the delegation "acted in a responsive way based on what they had to consider at the time."
State lawmakers largely blamed the bill's demise on a lack of public awareness. The district did not consult with parents on the measure in advance, and scheduled a last-minute public forum.
"I think it's a good bill," said Sen. Joan Carter Conway, who filed the bill in the Senate. "And if they had done it correctly, it wouldn't have gone down that way."
She said she didn't believe the bill has a chance this year. "Even if it made it out of the House, it wouldn't get out of the Senate," she said.
The debate over whether to arm school police has led some lawmakers to question whether the system should instead use city police to patrol schools. Some have said that in light of the district's budget deficit, officials should reassess the amount of money spent on the force. The cost is at least $9 million a year.
Having city police patrol schools may be more economical, Thornton said, but it hasn't been "well thought out yet."
He said an audit of the school Police Department is underway to examine the roles, responsibilities, authorities and services it provides. He said the district would announce "a new direction for the police force soon."
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Sen. Bill Ferguson, who first questioned whether the district should continue to employ its own force, acknowledged that violence plagues Baltimore's communities and schools. But the Baltimore Democrat said data indicate weapons have been recovered in schools in every Maryland county for the past four years.
There were more than 1,700 weapons-related suspensions in the state last year, Ferguson said. Anne Arundel County had more suspensions or expulsions for firearms than the city, and Baltimore County outnumbered the city in "other weapons." The city still led the state in the number of weapons-related suspensions or expulsions, however.
Ferguson said increasing armed police is a "counterproductive strategy." He said counseling and other services are more useful in enhancing school safety.
"We absolutely should continue to provide school resource officers and crisis teams in schools," Ferguson said. "We need a comprehensive approach to enhancing school safety, not a fear campaign to justify passing a bill to arm school safety officers."