Detective Ed Wilcher faced a darkened room, clicking through his presentation on the youth gangs in Montgomery County.
His audience Friday at Northwest High School in Germantown was about 20 school security staff from Montgomery County Public Schools, who were there to get an update on some of the groups they’ll be partly responsible for monitoring when school opens on Monday.
Wilcher, of the Montgomery County Police Department, said police are currently tracking 33 gangs, ranging from major organizations such as the Crips, Bloods and MS-13 to smaller neighborhood crews that operate within small local territories.
Friday’s information session was one of two that the county’s school security staff will have, said Alyson Baber, one of six security coordinators for Montgomery County Public Schools. There will be another in January after winter break.
Along with Wilcher’s presentation on gangs, security staff received briefings on drugs, bombs and an introduction on how to conduct investigations, among other things, Baber said.
Each of Montgomery’s 25 high schools has one security team leader and five assistants, except for Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring — the largest school in the county with more than 2,800 students — which has more, she said.
Middle schools generally have two security officers, Baber said.
There are also 15 school resource officers, police officers stationed in schools to help deal with security issues. While security officers are based out of the high schools, they often visit other schools as part of their rounds, Baber said.
Each member of the staff wore a dark blue shirt Friday with “Security” written across the back in block letters.
The security teams are required to wear their uniforms whenever they’re working, and they’re introduced at school orientations along with members of the administration, Baber said.
“We want that visibility,” she said.
The security teams handle a wide variety of responsibilities, from student fights and investigating reports of misbehavior to escorting disruptive students to administrators’ offices and directing traffic in the morning, Baber said. In one classroom, Lt. Matt Trivett of the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue bomb squad showed examples and videos of various types of pipe bombs to demonstrate their power and effectiveness.
He also had a replica of a device taken from Columbine High School in Colorado, site of an infamous 1999 massacre of students and faculty, that had two pipe bombs strapped to the top of a cylindrical propane tank.
He also talked to the security staff about how to handle more mundane but still serious issues.
School starts Monday, so by Wednesday or Thursday they’ll probably have their first fire in a school restroom, probably a middle or high school boys’ restroom, Trivett said.
He advised anyone who encounters such a situation to seal off the area and call police so the fire can be investigated before anyone is allowed to use the restroom again.
In another room, Wilcher told those in his session that gangs are becoming more and more technologically savvy.
The Internet is the new virtual street corner, a place for gang members to boast about their exploits and recruit new members.
Members have Twitter handles and post pictures and videos to sites such as Facebook and YouTube, he said.
Gang violence often exists below the surface of even some of the best schools in the county, and new groups can spring up quickly, he warned.
“Don’t underestimate these groups just because you’ve never heard of them,” he said.