When the call for Master Deputy Demonte Harvey and a nurse to come to Century High School’s wrestling room crackled over the radio on Jan. 8, he initially thought a student must have fallen or sustained a minor injury. But what felt like an eternity later, the school resource officer and nurse had helped save a boy’s life.
Harvey, of the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, and Cpl. Jason Neidig of the Aberdeen Police Department were among those recently commended by the National Association of School Resource Officers for their work in Maryland schools.
Harvey was presented with a Presidential Citation at a ceremony in Orlando earlier this week as part of NASRO’s annual National School Safety Conference. Neidig received the NASRO award for exceptional service for the organization’s Region 2, which includes Kentucky, Ohio, and Maryland.
Jackson Reed, a junior at Century High School in Eldersburg, collapsed 20 minutes into JROTC class Jan. 8 inside the school’s wrestling room, sending Harvey and school nurse Lynn Runk rushing to the scene. They thought Reed, 17, was having a seizure before noticing he was not breathing. They started CPR, and though Harvey said it was only 8 or 9 minutes until medics showed up to take over, “it felt like forever.”
“You don’t second guess .… you just jump right in,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure that young man was in the best care.”
Usually, school days are quieter for Harvey; he is known for plentiful high-fives, playing basketball with the students and the occasional congratulatory Chick-fil-A meal for them, but the scope of an SRO’s duty are broad. At work, Harvey has to be a counselor, a friend, an authority figure and a police officer for students, all at once. It is a tall order, but he said he enjoys the job every day.
Harvey tries to connect with students and get them to look beyond the uniform to create a positive rapport with them. He said that police are not viewed favorably in the present day, judging by media and social media, but positive interactions with students can help them see the person behind the badge and give them a new perspective on police.
“We turn that around in schools,” he said.
Also honored was Aberdeen Police Department Cpl. Jason Neidig, who was commended for his excellent service “above and beyond that expected of a normal SRO or school staff member,” NASRO announced. As the pandemic shuttered schools and kids turned to virtual learning, Neidig took to the internet, creating social media platforms to keep up with and encourage the students.
In posts across multiple platforms like TikTok and Instagram, Neidig tried to promote positivity and stay connected with students, even as they learned from home. He initially made the social media accounts to stay in touch with students over the summer break, he said, but the accounts proved helpful to staying in touch with students during the pandemic.
Neidig was promoted to corporal in March, meaning he will not be present in schools this coming year. He was approached about being promoted to a supervisor in the department’s traffic unit, but he requested to supervise SROs as well because of his hundreds of hours of training and experience in the role, which the command staff agreed to. He will miss the work on the ground, he said, and the connections he was able to form in a tightly knit community.
“It’s a passion; it’s the best specialized unit in policing by far,” Neidig said. “If you’re really into your community and trying to make a difference, man, you can’t get it closer than that.”
He said he was honored to receive the award, but he did not get into the work for acclaim or recognition. He said he was just doing the job as he would want it to be done.
“I don’t feel like I went above and beyond,” he said. “I just did what I thought was right in my heart — what I would expect SROs to do.”
But not everyone agrees with police placement in schools, and legislation was introduced at the last session of the General Assembly to curtail their abilities to work in schools and divert state funding for SRO programs, citing disproportionate arrests of Black and Latino students as the consequence of cops in schools. Students at Wilde Lake High School in Howard County have also participated in a walkout to support the removal of school resource officers.
Harford and Carroll County officials pushed back against the legislation, with Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler calling it “crazy,” saying it would endanger students if passed. Carroll County Sheriff Jim DeWees said legislation that called for restricting SROs from entering school buildings school resource officers “absolutely ridiculous,” and described deputies in Carroll’s program respected, dynamic, diverse, calm, cool and collected.
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The legislation introduced in both the state House and Senate died in committee during this session.