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Havre de Grace still posts a police officer at all its schools

A Havre de Grace Police Department vehicle is parked near Havre de Grace High School on March 21 ahead of a planned student walkout to protest gun violence. Havre de Grace Police have a resource officer assigned at each of the city's four schools.
A Havre de Grace Police Department vehicle is parked near Havre de Grace High School on March 21 ahead of a planned student walkout to protest gun violence. Havre de Grace Police have a resource officer assigned at each of the city's four schools. (David Anderson/The Aegis / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

While Maryland legislators debate whether to place school resource officers in all schools after Tuesday's shooting in St. Mary's County, Havre de Grace has been doing it for years.

In the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. — which claimed the lives of 26 people, including 20 children — the Havre de Grace City Council allocated money in its annual budget to place school resource officers in each school within city limits.

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The money, $40,000 transferred from a capital budget account to police overtime, added two positions to place resource officers in Havre de Grace Elementary and Meadowvale Elementary. Two other schools in the city, Havre de Grace Middle and Havre de Grace High, each already had an officer assigned to them.

The additional officers were in place by January 2013.

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Several local jurisdictions include resource officers in high schools, and some have them at middle schools, as well. But it is less common to have armed officials in elementary schools.

Havre de Grace Mayor William T. Martin was a member of the council that approved money for the additional officers. He and then-councilman Randy Craig spearheaded the effort, Martin said Wednesday. Then-mayor Wayne Dougherty supported them.

“If you ask any parent, ‘what could children at Sandy Hook have used,’ it would have been a school resource officer,” said Martin, who teaches history at nearby Aberdeen Middle School. “That’s how we felt. We really felt like, what is the best way to keep our children safe in Havre de Grace? Put an SRO in each school.”

At a public forum earlier this month on school safety in Harford County, Havre de Grace Police Chief Teresa Walter recalled that some people initially thought putting resource officers in elementary schools was a knee-jerk reaction. But she said it reflected that “school is very important to the normalcy of our community.”

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“The mayor, council president and council felt it was very, very important to support the families of our community, the parents and children,” Walter said during the forum, held March 1 in Bel Air and hosted by the Harford County Sheriff’s Office.

In Tuesday’s incident at Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County, resource officer Deputy First Class Blaine Gaskill was credited with ending the attack by Austin Rollins, 17, who shot and injured two students. Officials said Gaskill fired at Rollins, who almost simultaneously fired his handgun. Rollins was killed, and on Wednesday investigators were still determining which bullets struck which individuals.

Martin said he believes resource officers are a benefit to the overall school environment. They often deal with belligerent parents or disruptive students and build positive relationships within the school, he said.

Without resource officers, Martin said, hundreds of students in Havre de Grace schools would be unprotected by trained officers. As of the start of the current school year, total enrollment at the four city schools is 2,410 students, according to the Harford County Public Schools annual enrollment report.

“That’s a significant portion of our population unprotected and unguarded at schools, a vulnerable population,” he said.

“I definitely feel it’s the wave of future for all schools to have a school resource officer,” Martin said. “If the political will is there on a statewide level, they’ll find a way to make it happen.”

The Bel Air Police Department has one SRO who is deployed to all the public and private schools within the town limits, Chief Charles Moore said. They include Bel Air Middle and High and Bel Air and Homestead-Wakefield Elementary and the private John Carroll School, St. Margaret School and Harford Day School.

With one SRO, the police department works closely with the administration at each school.

“We try to stay efficient on drilling and working with school officials so we know what our role is if something should happen,” Moore said, adding the police department conducted an active shooter drill at the end of 2016 and is planning another soon.

Moore said he’d like to have a school resource officer in every school, but it comes down to money.

“It just depends on your budget,” he said.

The town has applied for grants through the U.S. Department of Justice for the last two years for funding for another SRO, Moore said. They finish just short of getting grant money, he said, and will keep applying until they get it.

He is also in discussions with the private schools to see if they’d be willing to help with funding for another SRO, Moore said.

The Aberdeen Police Department has full-time school resource officers at Aberdeen Middle School and Aberdeen High School.

An official with Aberdeen Police said those SROs occasionally will visit the city’s four elementary schools — Bakerfield, George D. Lisby at Hillsdale and Hall’s Cross Roads and the private St. Joan of Arc. Routinely, those schools are checked by the city’s patrol officers, Lt. Will Reiber, of the Aberdeen Police Department, said.

“Fortunately, the schools are within close proximity to each other, so we can be there in less than a minute,” Reiber said.

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