More police in Montgomery schools may hinge on planning -- Gazette.Net


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Before doubling the number of full-time county police officers in public high schools, Montgomery County officials say they need a better plan.

Montgomery County Police and Montgomery County Public Schools officials will try, in the next month, to establish a memorandum of understanding that details the specific roles and duties of school resource officers to please some members of the County Council.

Council members Valerie Ervin, Roger Berliner and Marc Elrich said Thursday at a committee meeting they want to see a plan before they move forward with County Executive Isiah Leggett’s recommendation to add six school resource officers for next budget year, for a total of 12 full-time officers in schools.

The council members believe a signed agreement will help the program become more consistent across high schools; the program is only working and valued in some schools, they said.

“Different SROs in different high schools do different things,” Ervin said, “and the MOU would straighten that out.”

Councilman Craig Rice said he has heard of a need for more coordination between police and principals, and this document would help that relationship.

Rice said he would take lead for the council on helping establish the memorandum.

He said he did not feel as though the document would hold up the approval process for the extra officers.

School resource officers were established in September 2002, placing 27 officers in schools to provide a proactive approach to school safety, allowing officers to build relationships with students.

In 2010 and 2011 the program was cut down to six officers, which some say diminished its effectiveness.

The recommendation for the school system and police department to develop clear responsibilities for school resource officers is not new.

After studying the program, research group Circle Solutions Inc. released a report in 2007 that stated the school system and police department should work together to refine and redefine the program, including a suggestion to develop a formal process for communication.

Of those interviewed for the report, the majority “said they did not see much cooperation, communication or strategic leadership between the police department and the schools,” the report wrote.

As a result, the program was functioning as if each officer ran a separate program.

The program is “severely hindered,” when those involved are unwilling to collaborate, the report states.

After that report came out, the police department did make some positive changes, and there was talk of establishing a memoradum of understanding a few years ago, said Bob Hellmuth, director of school safety and security for the school system.

But when budget cuts happened and the program shrank, everything went on hold, he said.

Hellmuth said he feels it is vital that the school system and police department work on an agreement, now that the program is growing again.

It will be hard to do that in a month, as there is bureacracy on both sides and a long approval process, Hellmuth said, but he said he thinks it can be done.

jbondeson@gazette.net