Anne Arundel executive proposes $15 million for improving school security

Rachael Pacella
Contact Reporterrpacella@capgaznews.com

Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh unveiled a two-year, $14.8 million plan Tuesday that would boost school security with more officers, more secure doors and bulletproof shields.

The proposal would add 20 school resource officers to public schools, enough to staff every high school and middle school. The money would also provide bulletproof shields for every school — equipment county police Chief Tim Altomare said would be used by officers or even staff if needed.

“It takes times, if there is not an officer directly present, to get cops to the scene of something like this,” Altomare said. “As Sandy Hook and Florida have taught us, minutes mean lives.”

It’s a step that will allow staff to do something other than jump between an assailant and children, he said. Schuh mentioned tactical protective gear when speaking Tuesday, and his spokesman later clarified that the gear referenced will be primarily protective bulletproof shields.

The funds would also pay for lock upgrades for 4,000 classroom interior doors and double-door security at all high schools in the county.

“No student in Anne Arundel county should be afraid to go to school, and no parent should fear for their children while attending an Anne Arundel County public school,” Schuh said.

His proposal also includes money for more than 1,500 cameras. Doyle Batten, supervisor of security for Anne Arundel County Public Schools, said some cameras would be placed in new locations, while others will replace aging equipment.

The announcement by Schuh, who was flanked by county schools Superintendent George Arlotto, comes in the wake of a school shooting in Florida that killed 17 people and kicked off a wave of debate over gun control and school security.

Schools spokesman Bob Mosier said there have been a dozen incidents involving threats to schools since the shooting in Florida occurred on Feb. 14.

Altomare said it has been a tough few weeks in Anne Arundel, and that the department has put its money where its mouth is when it comes to investigating school threats.

“We don’t have the luxury of treating a school threat as not legitimate, because it’s the one we don’t treat as legitimate that’s going to jump up and bite us,” Altomare said.

Batten said it is one of the largest one-time investments he is aware of in the state and the nation, and the way it will improve the schools’ camera systems is immeasurable.

The county’s board of education and county council have approved five capital budgets with a combined $9.4 million in funding specifically for security-related upgrades to county schools since a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut left 26 students and teachers dead.

Schuh said his administration might seek emergency funding in the current budget, but that most of the money he has proposed would come in the next two fiscal years. The Republican executive is up for re-election this year, facing Democrat Steuart Pittman in November.

Pittman said he supports all the initiatives Schuh announced Tuesday, adding that he also thanks elected officials who voted to ban assault rifles in Maryland.

“We can’t afford to have our school resource officers outgunned by those who would harm our children,” he said in an email.

Funding would require approval by the County Council. At least four new members will be elected this year because of term limits.

Less than a week ago Gov. Larry Hogan announced a $125 million commitment to accelerate and enhance school safety, his office said in a media release, as well as $50 million in additional operating funds each year for school safety grants. Both those costs would be funded through Hogan’s education lockbox proposal.

McEvoy said they hope to get some of that money to fund their proposal, but also have the resources to fund their two-year plan on their own.

Arlotto also announced some steps the system itself will take to enhance security. It is bringing back the School Safety and Security Council, a body composed of police, principals, assistant principals, parents and students, to examine and make recommendations for improving security. The council has been defunct for about four years, schools spokesman Bob Mosier said.

They’re also making room for regular beat officers to visit schools when they’re in the area. They're going to provide desk space, printers, offer Wi-Fi and give the officers a chance to walk around, adding an additional level of security to the building, Arlotto said.

“If they need a place to step in and work on a report or get off their feet for a minute, we’re going to welcome them into the buildings,” Arlotto said.

Reporter Chase Cook contributed to this report.

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