Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman announced Tuesday that he is committing $1.1 million in his upcoming budgets for school security initiatives, including more door locks at high schools and additional police officers for middle schools.
“When I heard about some of the things that needed to be fixed [in schools], it keeps you up at night,” Kittleman said at a late-morning news conference outside Mt. Hebron High School in Ellicott City, where he was flanked by schools Superintendent Michael Martirano and Chief of Police Gary Gardner.
“[T]he last thing you want to do is be the county executive or the superintendent or the chief of police and find out that there’s been something happening in one of our schools,” Kittleman said.
Three new school resource officers, and a supervisor, would join the three officers assigned to serve six middle schools: Mayfield Woods, Patuxent Valley, Wilde Lake, Harper's Choice, Lake Elkhorn and Oakland Mills.
Gardner said it had not been decided which schools the additional officers would patrol. The additional positions, including equipment and cars, are estimated to cost $768,725.
All of the county’s high schools have resource officers.
The announcement came a week after a student opened fire at Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County, killing one student, and three days after national marches by students calling for stricter gun laws and school security measures. Martirano was superintendent in St. Mary’s County from 2005 to 2014.
Howard County first assigned school resource officers at middle schools in 2012 in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, Gardner said.
Until the additional school resource officers arrive, Gardner said the department will mandate all patrol officers to add public and private schools in their beats to their regular patrol rounds.
Officers will be required to stop in at least one school in their coverage area during each shift to check in with staff and talk to students; the goal is for officers to learn the layout of the school in the event of an emergency, Gardner said.
The department announced the initiative on social media on Friday, said police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn. The department had not sent direct communications to parents about the change.
“So the role here is for our road officers, in their beats, to make at least one check per day of going in, checking in with school administration and staff, getting to know them, also if time allows walking in the school, interacting with students and if time permits, to even have lunch with the students,” Gardner said. “This is not something new, this is something that officers have done on their own in the past, but this is now just formalizing that program.”
Martirano said the school system plans to have “enhanced communication” with families about the increased police presence in schools to ease anxieties that parents or children may have, but he did not provide specifics.
Beginning today, the school system will install buzzer and lock systems in the front hall of every school, used by office staff to let visitors into the building. The systems are in place in elementary and middle schools as well as some high schools, including Mt. Hebron.
The additional buzzer systems will cost about $250,000, according to Tom McNeal, the school system’s director of security, emergency preparedness and response. McNeal said the money is being provided immediately through a reallocation of school system funds.
The idea of an increased police presence has been met with concern from some community members, including Howard County NAACP President Willie Flowers, who said while he sees the value in helping officers and students to get to know one another, he didn’t believe the initiative has been well communicated to parents.
Flowers, who attended the 30-minute news conference, said he wants to see more conversations with parents about the police presence in schools to better gauge community reaction.
“The community needs to be informed on any major move like this. Once it’s been communicated, the anxiety will go down,” he said.
Flowers said he wants to ensure that all police officers patrolling schools receive cultural proficiency training. Martirano noted during his remarks that school resource officers will receive training on restorative justice practices but did not provide a specific timeline for training or what it would entail.
Gardner also announced that school resource officers and beat officers will be running “small scale” drills at schools when students are not present to practice for active shooter and other emergencies.
The department also is looking for additional ways to expand its use of school security camera images, including sending it to patrol cars, Gardner said.
“We’re very excited about a lot of these opportunities that we have,” Gardner said. “It’s unfortunate that we are having to think this way. Our lives, our culture has changed dramatically now that we’ve had these active assailants and shooters. I’m sure that’s impacted every person here, whether it’s going to the movies, looking at where your exits are, going to the mall and now certainly in our schools.”