Aberdeen city officials raised a good point last week when they discussed the need for a police officer to be assigned to Aberdeen Middle School, if not the city's three elementary schools, as well.

Does every Harford County public school – or private school for that matter – need a police officer on duty at all times during school days?

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Time was, the answer would most certainly have been "not necessary." Events of the past 20 years, however, have taught us all that no school or any other public place is safe from a lethal attack by some deranged person.

Does having a police officer present mean a student won't smuggle a gun into school, or that an angry parent won't go berserk and harm somebody, or an employee won't decide to use lethal force to take out a grievance. Probably not. Studies by the FBI have indicated the deaths at Columbine and Sandy Hook most likely would have occurred, though perhaps not in as great numbers, had police been present, but that isn't much consolation.

The question is, do you want to take the risk? And, if not, are you prepared to pay the cost of ensuring there is an officer present at each of the 54 public schools – 55 if you count the central office in Bel Air?

In Aberdeen last week, a figure of $90,000 per officer was given as an estimate, a reasonable one to our thinking. Nine high schools already have officers assigned to them, with the money coming from either the Harford County Sheriff's Office's budget or the municipal police budgets of Aberdeen, Bel Air and Havre de Grace.

That pretty much squares with the figure Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler cited in November when he said he wanted additional funding to hire at least 36 correctional deputies to staff the unused new wing of the county jail.

There's no requirement for an officer on duty at schools below the high school level. The City of Havre de Grace pays three additional officers to be on duty at the city's middle school and two elementary schools. Assuming Aberdeen did the same, the city would need to hire/pay another four officers, five if you count the Center for Educational Opportunity. Bel Air's Police Department is rotating a single officer among four schools within its borders.

The math is relatively simple: 55 officers at $90,000 each works out to just shy of $5 million – every year. Not cheap and, regardless where the money falls in what budget, it's coming out of the pockets of taxpayers. Still, if the sheriff was willing to ask for $3.3 million to staff a part of the detention center that, given the current inmate population, he frankly doesn't need, maybe some re-evaluation of priorities is needed both on his part and the part of other elected officials and school leaders.

Let's go back to the question: Have we reached the point where we can afford to not have law enforcement present at every school? If the answer is "yes," and sadly we believe it is, then the expense of providing the necessary protection will have to be met.

The alternative is a gamble no one should be willing to take.

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