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Baltimore school system considering body cameras for school police

Liz Bowie
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
Should Baltimore school police be wearing body cameras?

Baltimore school officials are exploring whether to have school police officers outfitted with body cameras as other local police departments have in recent months.

The school system had begun looking into giving officers body cameras even before an officer was caught on video Tuesday slapping and kicking a student, said Karl Perry, who oversees school police for the school system.

The video was filmed at REACH Partnership School in East Baltimore after school police officers escorted the 16-year-old student out of the building because, officials have said, they did not recognize him as a student there.

Speaking Saturday at a community forum on juvenile justice, Perry said significant issues remain if the school system were to pursue the use of body cameras. With the system confronting budget shortages, there is little extra money for such a program, he said.

His comments come as Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's administration is negotiating with a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company, Taser International, to outfit 2,500 Baltimore Police Department officers with body cameras. The company wants to charge the city up to $12.8 million over five years.

Perry said issues to consider, beyond the budget, include that some students are in witness protection programs and should not be taped. And parents can decide not to allow their children to be photographed at school. The school system's lawyers would have to review all of the issues, he said.

School police have significantly reduced their presence in schools in the past year. Schools CEO Gregory Thornton has assigned police full time to only seven city high schools. The rest were redeployed and sent into communities surrounding schools — where they are allowed to carry weapons — to help combat problems such as truancy. They are on foot and bike patrols.

Baltimore has the only sworn police force in the state run by a school system. Other school districts use school resource officers from local police departments to patrol schools. Those officers carry weapons. Baltimore's school police officers are not allowed to carry guns while in a school.

At the community discussion on juvenile justice, several young people in the audience asked about the video and what the school system is doing to help make sure officers aren't hurting students.

Perry and acting School Police Chief Akil Hamm forcefully condemned the actions of Anthony C. Spence, the officer seen in the video.

No matter what the student may have done before video began, Perry said, there was no excuse for the officer's behavior. "I am glad we caught this gentleman," he said. As a father, Perry said, he doesn't know what he would have done if a police officer had put his hands on his child.

Immediately after school officials reviewed the video Tuesday, Hamm said, they put Spence and a colleague who stood by and watched the hitting on paid administrative leave. A criminal investigation is now being conducted by city police. If charges are brought against the officer, the criminal proceedings would have to be completed before the school system could complete its administrative investigation.

School Police Chief Marshall Goodwin has also been placed on administrative leave.

Spence's attorney has said that the officer believed the 16-year-old was trespassing and that an altercation occurred when he asked the youth to leave.

In coming weeks, the school system will hold a series of community meetings around Baltimore in an attempt to rebuild trust between police and citizens, Perry said. He said Thornton will tweet out the schedule for those meetings Sunday night.

"How can we assure everyone? How can we regain the trust of the community?" Perry said. He said the video "is not indicative of great things we are doing." Many school police officers are close to the students at their schools and help stop incidents, he said.

Hamm encouraged young people in the audience to report incidents if they believe officers are acting inappropriately. "Something will be done," he said.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

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