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With school security evaluations complete, Carroll Sheriff’s Office reports 'more than adequate coverage’

As Carroll County Public Schools prepares for a new year, the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office told the Carroll Board of County Commissioners at their most recent meeting that the Student Resource Officer program is in compliance with state standards and “going forward at full steam.”

Maj. Richard Hart, operations commander with the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, gave an update on the Student Resource Officer, or SRO, program in high schools and the law enforcement coverage of elementary and middle schools in the public school system.

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The same sheriff’s deputies that served as SROs the previous year will remain assigned to the high schools, he said, meaning there will be one assigned to each high school and Gateway School.

Middle and elementary schools, while they don’t have dedicated SROs, will have “more than adequate coverage,” Hart said. Deputies are assigned to patrol the areas of middle and elementary schools.

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The Safe to Learn Act in Maryland requires that starting with the 2019-20 school year and each year following, the school system must identify which schools are assigned an SRO, or if they are not assigned one, how local law enforcement will provide “adequate coverage.”

After the commissioners’ meeting, Hart wrote in an email that, “All patrol deputies are required to go into the schools in their assigned areas and speak with the school administration and patrol the buildings.”

On Thursday, Hart said Carroll County Public Schools will be in compliance with the Safe to Learn Act. The act has other provisions, too, such as a requirement that school systems appoint a mental health services coordinator.

Duane Williams, supervisor of school security and emergency management, elaborated in an email that in order to evaluate adequate coverage, “We are required to provide our coverage plan to the Maryland Center for School Safety (MCSS) in June of each year. They submit a report to the MCSS Subcabinet and the Governor for review and future recommendations."

Both Hart and Williams said they could not disclose the number of deputies assigned to middle schools or elementary schools in the county, citing that it was protected information because of safety concerns.

Hart told the commissioners Thursday, “All is well. We’re going forward at full steam.”

He said CCPS is a great partner to the Sheriff’s Office in the SRO program. “I believe their values are the same as ours ... from last year to this year, the transition’s been seamless. There’s not really a whole lot I can say negative. We’re just moving along. I think it’s going to be a good year,” he said.

Commissioner Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, said he applauds the work put into establishing the SRO program but questioned whether the phrase “more than adequate" implied that the program was not seeking out additional resources and striving to increase coverage.

“It’s a continuing work in progress,” he said. “I don’t believe in ever saying ‘more than adequate’ when we’re talking about safety and security.”

Hart replied, “I think with the [Safe to Learn Act] and what they’re asking us to do, I think we’ve accomplished that.”

Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, asked about staffing, and Hart said the unit is fully staffed.

Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, praised the presence of SROs at summer programs and said he had come across them at many public events.

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“I guess the most outstanding was I saw kids run up to them, talking to them, I think the same as they did in school, [and] introduced them to their parents,” Weaver said. “Talk about a powerful SRO program. That’s total community policing.”

Hart said that security is the core mission of the Sheriff’s Office’s Safe Schools Unit, but the relationships between students and SROs have been a positive side benefit.

“I’m really pleased, and the sheriff’s really pleased. It’s gone a whole lot better than we thought,” he said.

Weaver said that when SROs have developed trust with students, "It’s really nipped some major things in the bud.”

Hart attributed that to the fact that deputies were handpicked for the SRO roles. No deputy was assigned the post without showing interest and aptitude first.

In addition to identifying SROs and law enforcement coverage, the Maryland General Assembly passed a law requiring every district in the state to conduct a building security system evaluation of each school before the start of the school year.

CCPS contracted a security consultant to evaluate their facilities. The evaluations were finished and a summary was sent to the Maryland Center for School Safety.

Williams said a previous request for the summary was filed as a Public Information Act request, which was denied for security reasons.

“I can tell you that there were no surprises noted in the findings,” he said in an email.

“School safety evaluations, emergency plans, and local law enforcement coverage policies are not subject to inspection under the Maryland Public Information Act,” according to a summary of the Safe to Learn Act written by the Maryland Association of Boards of Education.

While speaking about the school system’s strategic plan in an interview prior to the start of school, Superintendent Steve Lockard said, “Safety is the thing I think about the most, I’ll be honest with you. Making sure all our students are safe and secure. So we go to great lengths to do training, to do updates, to provide support and resources. We have an awesome partnership with our sheriff and our school resource officers. We’re so appreciative of our county for providing that resource to us.”

Williams said, “It is important that we don’t overlook the fact that school security is everyone’s responsibility. It is extremely important that if a student, parent or staff member is made aware of a threat or other concerning behavior that they report it immediately to a school administrator, school security or law enforcement ... Our best defense is to mitigate the problem through prevention."

An outlet to report suspicious behavior is the Safe Schools Maryland tipline, which allows people to make tips to law enforcement and schools administrators anonymously if they wish and allows officials to reach back out to the tipster for more information or clarification if needed. Reports can be made 24/7 at www.safeschoolsmd.org or by calling 1-833-MD-B-SAFE.

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