A new deployment strategy that assigns only seven school police officers to work inside Baltimore public schools, while the vast majority move in and out of different schools and patrol areas near the schools was in the spotlight Friday.
There were concerns that the school police would become embroiled in dealing with criminal acts in the street, which could distract them from their school duties and open up the school system to liability lawsuits.
“What has been the dialogue with city police to ensure that if a crisis arises in a neighborhood, police officers are readily available for the schools’ needs?” school board commissioner Martha James Hassan asked Marshall T. Goodwin, head of the police, at a meeting last Friday.
“Our priorities are our schools,” Goodwin said, before giving an example of a Code 13 (“officer in distress”) call in which school police would be required to assist a city officer.
“Any school officer will respond to that,” he said. “[City police] will support us, and we will have to support them.”
Goodwin called the new model “community policing.” He disclosed that his office was in the process of finalizing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Baltimore Police and City Schools that will clarify expectations and specify standard operating procedures.
Schools CEO Gregory E. Thornton said the MOU would also spell out school police priorities and district liability.
Guns in Schools
The new deployment strategy debuted last spring after a bill in Annapolis allowing school police to carry weapons in school buildings was scuttled by the Baltimore City delegation amid criticism from parents and civil liberties advocates.
The school police argued that they needed to be armed to protect students and themselves.
But in the course of discussing the bill, it came out that many police officers were carrying their weapons into schools in violation of the law.
Previously, 75 school police officers were assigned to city schools. Now, only a handful of officers are assigned to specific schools, while the others rotate in and out of the schools and adjoining neighborhoods.
A Tactic to Stay Armed
Thornton said this deployment is the only strategy that the police could use to stay armed but remain in compliance with the current law.
Over the summer, the police held seven “community conversations” about the new policy to gauge public attitudes toward police carrying guns in schools.
Commissioner Cheryl Casciani said the meetings revealed a 50-50 split for-and-against police carrying guns in schools.
Before she would consider making a recommendation for a permanent deployment strategy, she said she wanted to look at a number of factors, including the role of school police as mentors and coaches and how working outside of schools might affect those roles.
She told Thornton that she also wanted information on the best practices in school policing in other cities.
“What are other urban districts doing?” she asked. “How are they handling it?”
No timetable was set on when such information would be available or when the MOU would be completed.