Following the school shootings in Parkland, Florida and Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County, Carroll County Public Schools began moving forward with increased law enforcement presence in schools through a partnership with the Sheriff's Office.
On March 21, CCPS and the Sheriff’s Office placed deputies in various schools throughout the county, starting with a stop-gap program until a full-time plan could be put into place. And, in the final hours of the 2018 Maryland Legislative Session, the General Assembly passed the Maryland Safe to Learn Act.
The Board of Education solidified the Student Resource Officer, or SRO, program with the Sheriff’s Office in August, signing a memorandum of understanding.
“To make sure that there’s a safe learning environment and a safe teaching environment — that is our primary responsibility,” Sheriff Jim DeWees said of the program. “It’s not about locking kids up, it’s about creating a healthier culture.”
Duane Williams, CCPS supervisor of school security and emergency management, said that, ultimately, the goal is for students to interact with the SROs, who can provide a positive role models for the kids.
“Anyone who sends their kids to a public school is going to see a measurable amount of security in our schools,” DeWees said, later adding, “Look at the statistics, specifically in Maryland, schools with School Resource Officers actually have fewer arrests. I think it brings a sense of calm to the school and helps deter a lot of nonsense."
Here are a few things you need to know about the SRO program before schools go back in session Tuesday.
Why are SROs being placed in Carroll schools?
The Safe to Learn Act, passed into Maryland law in 2018, requires that all public schools have an assigned SRO or plans for “adequate law enforcement coverage.”
Which CCPS facilities will have SROs?
An SRO will work out of every high school in the county. In three high schools, a dedicated SRO will work from the school every day. In the remaining high schools, deputies will rotate on an overtime basis until those full-time SRO positions are filled.
Elementary and middle schools will continue to receive patrols and coverage under the adopt a school program, which falls under the “plan for adequate law enforcement coverage” as outlined in the law.
Who do SROs report to?
A memorandum of understanding between CCPS and the Sheriff’s Office was signed Aug. 15 that states that the SROs are employees of the Sheriff’s Office who will work collaboratively with school administrators.
A document titled “CCPS School Resource Officer Program Roles and Authority” outlines the authority maintained by both school administrators and SROs is required by the new law and is available on the CCPS website.
Sgt. Phil Lawrence is the commander and Cpl. Jeremy Holland is the assistant commander of the SRO unit.
“The supervisors are also responsible for handling any complaints on SROs and backfilling schools in an SRO’s absence,” according to the Program Roles and Authority document. These supervisors report to Capt. David Stem and Maj. Richard Hart of the Sheriff’s Office.
Williams expects to meet daily with program supervisors and attend routine meetings to assess how the programs are progressing.
How were deputies chosen for the positions, and what are their qualifications?
A committee was formed to conduct interviews and assess the qualifications of current Sheriff’s Office deputies.
Deputies assigned as permanent SROs are required to undergo specific training developed by the The Maryland Center for School Safety (MCSS), which has been accepted by the Maryland Police Training Standards Commission.
Training topics include “single officer response to active assailants, de-escalation, disability awareness, maintaining a positive school climate, constructive interactions with students, implicit bias, and disability and diversity awareness with specific attention to racial and ethnic disparities,” according to the Program Roles and Authority document.
Each SRO will also eventually be certified as an instructor through the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commission, DeWees said. This is the certification that any law enforcement officer who teaches in a training academy or in-service training programs must have.
Will additional dedicated SROs be assigned?
The Sheriff’s Office aims to replace rotating overtime shifts with a dedicated SRO in every high school.
Funding will allow the office to hire additional deputies from academy graduates and lateral transfers from other departments. Several potential deputies are part of academy scheduled to begin Sept. 10.
The time to hire and train a deputy to be ready for patrolling independently can take several months, DeWees said. As these deputies take on independent patrol duties, experienced patrol deputies will be slotted in as dedicated SROs until all high schools have a dedicated SRO.
DeWees said of staffing the program, “I’ve got to make sure I do it effectively, that I don’t leave one area vulnerable to support another.”
Who is funding the SRO program and where is the money coming from?
Ultimately, it’s coming out of the Sheriff’s Office budget and the money was provided by the commissioners through the fiscal budget process, Williams said.
“There will be some grant funding available out there in years to come, potentially for additional personnel, that would come through the state,” he said.
About $1.7 million was allotted to get the program off the ground in the most recent county budget.
Will SROs be armed?
Deputies serving as SROs will be armed with the same equipment as any other deputy, including a service pistol, taser, OC spray, bulletproof vest and marked patrol car.
When will an SRO be called to intervene in a situation other than an active shooter?
SROs would be called on in situations where a school administrator would have to call 911 to request law enforcement presence. They will address violations of criminal law where appropriate.
Williams said students will be able to approach SROs with concerns.
What situations would be inappropriate for an SRO to intervene in?
“SROs are prohibited from being involved in or used in lieu of school discipline procedures,” according to the Program Roles and Authority document.
The SROs will not take over school discipline roles held by principals, vice principals and other school administrators.
“We’re not going in dragging kids out of classrooms that don’t want to adhere to rules,” DeWees said.
He said SROs are not expected to “turn a blind eye” if an incident is happening in front of them, and would expect the deputy to act in a way that would help calm and de-escalate the situation. He said those skills are a reason why only seasoned deputies are being considered for SRO positions.
The job of SROs will be to create a close working relationship with school administration and a relationship with the school community.
In cases where a search of a student locker is sought, SROs require a tougher burden of proof that school administrators. SROs must find probable cause in order to search.
Administrators require reasonable suspicion — a reasonable presumption that a crime has been, is being, or will be committed — in order to search lockers, which are school property.
Will SROs be teaching students or assisting in any instruction of specialized programs?
Not at this time. SROs may be asked to be guest speakers in classes when applicable. Williams used the example of speaking about search and seizure to a government class, similar to the way employees of the Carroll County Health Department may speak in a class.
Education for high school students interested in law enforcement is already available in CCPS through the Carroll County Career and Tech Center’s Homeland Security Criminal Justice program.