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The Aegis
Harford County

Harford County Public Schools’ chief of security talks about the upcoming year

As the school year approaches for Harford County Public Schools, The Aegis caught up with Safety and Security Chief Donoven Brooks following a recent virtual town hall on school safety and security to talk about his accomplishments and safety measures the school system has added for this year.

Brooks graduated from Baltimore City Community College with an associate degree of applied science in law enforcement. He earned a bachelor of science degree in management and leadership and a master of science in public safety management, both from Johns Hopkins University, in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

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Prior to coming to county schools, Brooks joined the Baltimore City School Police Force as a patrol supervisor and was later promoted to Area 2 commander, responsible for 18 police officers and the safety of 33 schools in 1997. He worked for the city for 20 years.

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Brooks joined Harford County Public Schools in 2017. Since then, he has created the school system’s Active Assailant Critical Response Training program for over 5,000 employees.

He used Safe Schools Fund Grant money to pay for behavioral threat assessment training. Teams were trained for all county public schools. The training was provided by the team of Dewey Cornell, from the University of Virginia. Brooks has also worked to improve access control and visitor management protocols for schools.

Brooks started the school safety liaison program to provide culture, climate and intervention support in secondary schools. The program began with eight liaisons and has more than doubled the number of school safety liaisons in the past three years. There are 21 school safety liaisons with one assigned to each middle and high school, and eight who float between the elementary and secondary schools. For this school year, the school system has 18 new school safety liaison positions open, Brooks said.

Brooks added three regional security coordinators to supervise the school safety liaisons and provide safety and security support to schools.

The safety and security department’s plans for the 2022-23 school year primarily will focus on including all members of the community in improving school safety.

“Safety is everyone’s business,” Brooks said. “We just want everyone to understand we all own a piece of the security pie in Harford County Public Schools.”

When the safety department compiled the crisis preparedness report, the department took input for students, parents, staff, law enforcement, business leaders and community members. The department, however, wanted these groups to have input throughout school year, so the safety department can find holes in its security.

Throughout the school year, Brooks and other members will conduct tabletop exercises, which are simulations of real-world scenarios, in collaboration with law enforcement partners to prepare administrators and staff to respond to major critical incidents.

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For these exercises, school administrators, staff and law enforcement will be given an example of a critical incident such as an active shooter or weather emergency, and a diagram of the building, while sitting at a table together, Brooks said. The groups then will discuss given situations as a way to build the capacity to think through incidents faster when they occur, Brooks said.

The safety department will hold regional parent safety workshops as well, so parents can speak with members of the safety department to voice their concerns, Brooks said. The department plans to touch every region of the county with a workshop, Brooks said.

Brooks has created the HCPS Student Safety Council for student input on what safety and security looks like from their perspective to help guide policy and training.

“They communicate extremely well when it comes to their expectations,” Brooks said of students. “We can’t just give them our expectations. Isn’t it only fair that they have expectations as well?”

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Brooks is working on the design of the council, but he did confirm that it will meet quarterly as well as represent the student views from all levels.

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“They know what’s going on,” said Laurie Namey, Magnolia Middle School principal. “They are going to know what the holes and gaps are. If you have good relationships with your students, they will just offer the information. That is the beauty of being able to support our students in proactive ways.”

Brooks said school safety could be compromised by staff shortages within schools. For example, the custodial department, which provides vital day-to-day functions, has 30 vacancies.

Brooks recalled that when he was a school law enforcement officer, whenever he was looking for a lead on a particular situation, he would primarily get information from the custodian or secretary.

In addition to the shortages, the school system is looking to improve emergency critical incident training, de-escalation training, bullying prevention training, and mental health and trauma-informed practices, Brooks said.

The first day of school in Harford County Public Schools is Sept. 6. All schools will have locked doors and check-in procedures will be in place as students and staff return.

Donoven Brooks, Coordinator of Safety and Security for Harford County Public Schools, talks about the importance of training and various methods his office uses to keep schools safe during a visit to Magnolia Middle School Monday, August 22, 2022.
Magnolia Middle School Principal Laurie Namey talks about the upcoming school year  with Donoven Brooks, Coordinator of Safety and Security for Harford County Public Schools at Magnolia Middle School Monday, August 22, 2022.
Donoven Brooks, Coordinator of Safety and Security for Harford County Public Schools, talks with Magnolia Middle School Principal Laurie A. Namey during his visit to Magnolia Middle School Monday, August 22, 2022.
Magnolia Middle School Principal Laurie Namey, left, about school security with Donoven Brooks, Coordinator of Safety and Security for Harford County Public Schools, during his visit to Magnolia Middle School Monday, August 22, 2022.
Donoven Brooks, Coordinator of Safety and Security for Harford County Public Schools, talks about the importance of training and various methods his office uses to keep schools safe during a visit to Magnolia Middle School Monday, August 22, 2022.
Donoven Brooks, Coordinator of Safety and Security for Harford County Public Schools, talks about the importance of training and various methods his office uses to keep schools safe during a visit to Magnolia Middle School Monday, August 22, 2022.
Donoven Brooks, Coordinator of Safety and Security for Harford County Public Schools, at Magnolia Middle School Monday August 22, 2022.

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