Baltimore lawmakers voted down legislation Saturday that would have allowed city school police officers to carry guns while patrolling in schools.
The vote was met with approval from advocates who have been pressuring lawmakers against the bill, arguing city officials should focus on providing more resources for youth, not arming police.
“We appreciate the leadership of Baltimore City Delegates who opposed” the legislation, Dana Vickers Shelley, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, said after the vote. “Moving forward, we urge them all to focus on fully funding our schools and building a positive learning environment for the city’s next generation, our children.”
Voting against the bill were: delegates Dalya Attar, Regina Boyce, Tony Bridges, Robbyn Lewis, Brooke Lierman, Maggie McIntosh, Nick Mosby, Samuel Rosenberg, Stephanie Smith and Melissa Wells.
Voting in favor were: delegates Cheryl Glenn, Curt Anderson, Talmadge Branch, Frank Conaway and Keith Haynes.
Del. Luke Clippinger was absent. All Baltimore’s lawmakers are Democrats.
Sgt. Clyde Boatwright, president of the school police union, has been a fierce advocate for arming the officers. After the vote, he noted that the school board, school police officials and the school police union all supported the bill.
He said his force is 97 percent black and 70 percent of the officers were students themselves in Baltimore public schools.
“Disappointment is an understatement,” Boatwright said of the vote. “The students and staff of city schools deserve better. It’s clear to me that some people that have decision-making power in Annapolis are out of touch with the reality of Baltimore.”
Boatwright contrasted the 10-5 vote against arming city school police inside buildings with the delegation’s 9-4 vote on Tuesday in favor of an armed police force for Johns Hopkins University.
“It shows the priorities of some people who are sent down to Annapolis,” Boatwright said. “They voted against the public school students but voted to support a private institution.”
Before the vote, Glenn — the bill’s sponsor — urged her colleagues to support the measure as a way to protect schoolchildren in Baltimore. She noted school resource officers in every other jurisdiction in the state are allowed to carry firearms inside schools.
"Baltimore city would be the only jurisdiction in the entire state where our children are not protected,” argued Glenn, who is chairwoman of the city’s House delegation.
Branch, who is majority whip in the House of Delegates, agreed, saying the armed officers are necessary in an age when mass shootings happen across the country. He also cited Baltimore’s high crime rate. The city has suffered from more than 300 homicides each of the last four years.
"There's plenty of violence in Baltimore city,” Branch said. “Here we have our school system sitting right in the middle of all this turmoil and we don't protect them.”
But Lierman argued there’s little evidence that arming school police officers inside buildings would make children safer. Rather, she argued, a shootout between a gunman and police could lead to more deaths or injuries.
"There's no data to demonstrate that having an armed guard or armed police officer in a school building deters active shooter situations or makes people safer,” Lierman said.
After the vote, Glenn said she would consider whether to introduce the bill again next session.
“The issue is so important that I may try again,” she said.
Baltimore parents, community members and legislators have long been divided over the issue — and it has become a perennial source of debate. In 2015, another bill that would have allowed school police officers to be armed inside schools failed during the General Assembly session.
The latest effort was Glenn’s second attempt this session to pass her bill. She withdrew it in January after the Baltimore school board unanimously voted to oppose the idea.
But after a staff member at Frederick Douglass High School was injured in a Feb. 8 shooting inside the school, the board reversed its position, and Glenn reintroduced her bill.
Under current law, the city’s roughly 100 school police officers are allowed to carry their guns while patrolling outside schools before and after class hours. But they are required to store their weapons in a secure location during the school day.
Baltimore is the only jurisdiction in Maryland with a sworn school police force. In surrounding districts, county police officers or sheriff’s deputies patrol schools and are allowed to carry their guns.
The shooting at Douglass loomed over the debate in recent weeks.
Police charged a relative of a student with shooting special education assistant Michael Marks inside the school. The 56-year-old longtime staffer was seriously injured but survived and subsequently called for arming the officers.
Maryland Senate Republicans are pushing a bill that would require city school police officers to carry their guns inside schools.
But that legislation — sponsored by Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings, who represents Harford and Baltimore counties — has no Democratic co-sponsors. In Maryland’s Democratic-controlled General Assembly, Republicans cannot pass legislation without at least some bipartisan support.