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Even after board vote, armed school police in Baltimore aren't a given

Almost no other issue has brought as much passionate testimony at Baltimore school board meetings as the question of whether school police officers should be armed.

At its last meeting, the board reversed its earlier position and voted 8-2 in support of legislation that would amend state law to authorize its officers to patrol with guns during the school day. Their vote — taken a month after they unanimously opposed the idea of armed officers — came shortly after a shooting at Frederick Douglass High School left a hall monitor injured.

After the vote, board chair Cheryl Casciani warned that arming school police is not a “forgone conclusion.”

The bill still has to pass in Annapolis, where lead sponsor Del. Cheryl Glenn says the city delegation is divided. The bill was introduced Feb. 20, and has been referred to the Judiciary Committee. Glenn said she thinks the school board’s show of support gives her bill a greater chance at passing.

But even should it soar through the General Assembly, Casciani cautioned, it’s unclear what would happen next.

During hours of discussion at a contentious school board meeting, commissioner Andy Frank zeroed in on one word in Glenn’s bill. He wanted to know what it meant that the bill reads, a “Baltimore City school police officer may carry a firearm on the premises of a school.”

Under current law, the city’s roughly 100 school police officers are allowed to carry their guns while patrolling the exterior of school buildings before and after school hours, but they are required to store their weapons in a secure location during the day.

The district’s director of legislative and government affairs Dawana Merritt Sterrette explained that the bill’s wording means the school board would be empowered to make a choice about whether to arm school police during school hours. Should Glenn’s legislation pass, the board would have to vote again to decide whether to arm school police and develop related policies.

Merritt Sterrette emphasized that “the intent is there” for the board to remove the restriction on officers. But ultimately, the decision would be left to the board.

If the bill passes, Casciani said, the board would work with students, advocacy groups, principals and politicians to develop regulations on the “deployment of people and weapons.”

“It’s not a given what will happen in Annapolis and after it happens,” she said, “we will have some real decisions to make about how we’re going to do this.”

trichman@baltsun.com

twitter.com/TaliRichman

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