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Deputies look to build relationships, provide security as presence in Carroll schools increases

Carroll County Sheriff's Office increases law enforcement presence in schools

Deputy Brian Colussy stood in front of Liberty High School on a cold Tuesday morning in March, eyes scanning as students made their way off buses and streamed through the front doors.

Colussy waited until all of the students filed into the school before heading inside the building in Eldersburg, where he then walked to the main office and hung up his jacket. He talked with Principal Ken Goncz, who handed him a radio and a manila folder with a map of the school and the day’s schedule inside.

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Tuesday was Colussy’s first day stationed in Liberty, though it was the third day members of the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office began increasing their presence in schools.

Carroll County Public Schools announced March 20 an update to its security plan, which called for placing deputies at “various schools throughout the county.” The deputies are to interact with students and faculty, and also to act as a deterrent for criminal activity.

The announcement came the same day as a school shooting in Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County, where 17-year-old Austin Rollins shot two students, one of whom later died from her wounds, before killing himself.

Rollins was confronted by school resource officer Deputy First Class Blaine Gaskill and their weapons went off at the same time, with Rollins shooting himself in the head and Gaskill shooting Rollins in the hand, The Baltimore Sun and other media outlets reported.

Carroll’s plan is a stopgap to the end of the year, as the school system, sheriff’s office and Board of County Commissioners look at the financial feasibility of implementing a full school resource officer program.

‘Community policing mindset’

Colussy, who normally patrols the northwestern part of the county, said having a larger law enforcement presence in the schools is a chance for the youth to connect to the deputies, and see they’re not the “bad guys.”

It’s a chance to build relationships with the kids, he said, and makes them more comfortable to come to law enforcement if they hear something dangerous happening.

“I think it’s a good thing,” he said, adding it’s a bit of a change in mindset being in the schools.

Carroll County Public Schools will now have increased law enforcement presence in schools.

“I’ve kind of taken a community policing mindset,” Colussy said.

Across the county on this same Tuesday, Lt. Mark Devilbiss was stationed at Francis Scott Key High School in Union Bridge. It was also his first day working at FSK, although the shift commander is familiar with the facility having graduated from the school.

He still knows some of the teachers, and he knows the “nooks and crannies” of the facility. The school is the place he can be the most effective in, he said.

The current plan calls for deputies to work overtime shifts stationed at various schools, but not necessarily the same one each day. A dedicated SRO program would likely assign a deputy to a particular school.

Devilbiss said he has always been interested in an SRO program in the schools, and was excited for the opportunity to be a part of the increased presence.

In this role, he said, it’s important to be a part of the school community and get to know the students and faculty.

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“In law enforcement, we’re all about relationships,” he said, adding that strong relationships with the school community can be preventative.

The deputies’ presence in the schools, in addition to being a deterrent, also means they can get somewhere quickly, Devilbiss said. In law enforcement, minutes make the difference. Being able to intervene quickly can change the outcome of an emergency, he said.

“That makes a difference between bad and really bad,” he added.

FSK Principal Joseph Guerra said it’s “fantastic” having deputies in the schools.

Guerra said he has heard a lot of positive comments from students, teachers and especially parents since the announcement was made.

“It’s been a welcomed addition,” he said. ‘

Goncz also spoke favorably about the change, and said he’s supportive of anything that makes the schools safer.

“I think the visibility is an important thing,” he said, to help deter crime.

Short-term solutions, future plans still undecided

The current plan of increased law enforcement presence is being used to cover the rest of the school year, though a long-term plan has not been created.

The cost of having the deputies at the schools will be covered by money allocated by the county commissioners, although the exact amount it will cost is unclear. Commissioner President Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, previously told the Times the cost of adding an increased law enforcement presence to schools for the rest of the year will be around “a couple hundred thousand dollars,” but he did not have a specific number.

Days after a triple shooting at a St. Mary’s County high school thrust Maryland into the center of a national reckoning over gun violence, state lawmakers on Thursday displayed bipartisan support for school safety legislation.

County Director of Management and Budget Ted Zaleski told commissioners last week the possibility of SROs is one of many concepts that are not currently accounted for in the fiscal year 2019 budget.

Sheriff Jim DeWees said to implement a full-time SRO program in CCPS, there would be some first-time costs associated with outfitting and training deputies. Costs could be around $1.5 million for the first year, and fall to $1 million a year after that, he said.

The plan would ideally be to pull current deputies in the force to move into the schools, and then hire new members to fill their spots. But, DeWees said, it’s not about just putting someone in the schools, but putting the right person in the schools.

For the time being though, DeWees said he is having deputies work in rotations to be stationed at the schools, adding that filling those shifts hasn’t been too difficult.

DeWees said the deputies will be stationed in a school all day, but also be responsible for the feeder schools in the area and make time to go over and check in with those as well.

“I have deputies that would be interested in doing this in a full-time capacity,” he said.

If they are able to get funding and move to a full-time SRO program, he said, they would work to get the deputies into appropriate training designated for these types of programs.

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Law enforcement have a mindset, he said, and they’re always looking out for possible threats.

“That’s certainly what we would expect in our schools,” he said.

But, DeWees added, there’s an added level as an SRO because they have to know when not to intervene in a school situation in which a principal or teacher would normally handle things.

“They’re not there as the arm of the principal,” he said.

DeWees also said the goal would be to have the SROs involved in the school as more than just security, but also have deputies involved in clubs or help teach students interested in entering the Carroll County Career and Technology Center’s Homeland Security program.

“There’s a number of things I think we can do in the schools,” he said.

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