Bel Air official urges public to report threats against schools to police

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Bel Air Town Commissioner Brendan Hopkins, responding to recent concerns he has seen on social media about school safety, encouraged residents Monday to report to police any information about a threat against schools.

“If anyone is aware of a threat, or there’s something going around on social media related to our schools in town, please call the [Bel Air] Police Department at 410-638-4500,” Hopkins said.

He issued the call during the commissioners’ comments portion of the town commissioners’ regular town hall meeting.

School safety has been a major concern for Harford County residents in 2018, as well as school, public safety and government officials, following the deadly school shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, followed by a shooting at Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County on March 20.

Police in Harford County responded to a handful of threats of violence at Harford schools during the 2017-18 school year, news of which often spread via social media.

One student at Aberdeen Middle School was arrested and charged with making threats in December 2017, and two Edgewood High School students were charged in February after they made a false threat to try to get school canceled.

Harford County also has been rocked by two deadly workplace shootings in less than a year, at Advanced Granite Solutions in Edgewood in October 2017 and in September at the Rite Aid distribution center in Perryman.

Hopkins, a former Baltimore County 911 dispatcher and Harford County Sheriff’s Office deputy, urged people to call police so they can investigate a potential threat against a school.

“That way there aren’t rumors circulating around on social media that may or may not be true,” he said.

Harford County Public Schools officials say they have been working with law enforcement and the county government to ensure school safety during this school year, now nearly a month old.

Law enforcement and Harford County Public Schools held a mock shooter drill at Bel Air High School in late July. A similar exercise was held at that school in July 2016.

Those measures include expanding the number of school resource officers so there is a police presence at all middle and high schools. The SROs are expected to be in place at all middle schools by early 2019.

But those efforts have been criticized by some people as not going far enough.

Several parents and community leaders said at a recent Board of Education meeting that the school system should adopt training in the ALICE — Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate — system so students and staff can counter an active shooter in multiple ways, rather than just hiding.

Following Monday’s town meeting, Hopkins suggested that the school system set up a hotline people can call if they hear about a threat at night or during the weekends.

“No tip is too small,” Hopkins said. “If [people] hear something that doesn’t feel or seem right, they need to call us and let us know.”

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