Cumberland Times-News

July 8, 2013

Sheriff Robertson offers three recommendations for security in county schools

Jeffrey Alderton
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — Sheriff Craig Robertson released his long-awaited schools security report Monday, offering three recommendations that could provide additional security to Allegany County public and private schools outside municipalities in the county.

The sheriff said he feels strongly that the onus of adding police security in the schools is the responsibility of his office.

Robertson recommended hiring full-time school resource officers who would provide security to both public and private schools in the county. “If it is the intent of the board of education to provide DARE training to all students, then the need for sworn officers is necessary. These officers would still continue to provide rotating security to the remaining schools. The cost per officer would be approximately $60,000 with benefits but not including vehicle, equipment and fuel. In order to start this program and cover the 12 county schools (outside municipalities of Frostburg and Cumberland) I feel that an additional three SROs would be needed to achieve this. As the program continues, the total could be revisited.”

In his second recommendation, the sheriff said if DARE training is not required, retired law enforcement officers could provide the security and be paid at the rate of $15 per hour. He said a 180-day school year would place the cost at between $22,000 and $25,000 per officer per year. The cost would not include vehicles, benefits or equipment, which would have to be adjusted.

“This also depends on the number of available retirees that would be interested. As all teachers attest, working with children can be trying and takes a special person to work in that environment.”

The third recommendation called for a combination of SROs and retired law enforcement officers. “Retired officers could continue to provide rotating security to the schools while SROs could provide the same along with DARE training. A minimum of 12 additional SROs would be needed to allow for all the schools to be provided this training, along with two or three additional security officers to rotate throughout the schools,” said the sheriff.

The sheriff’s 11-page report, titled Allegany County Shool Security Plan 2013, was presented to the county commissioners, the board of education and to media following a PowerPoint presentation by the sheriff. The meeting was conducted without allowing comments or questions.

Following the meeting, board of education member Mike Llewellyn said he was grateful for the committee’s report. “We are lucky to have these professionals in our community. ... We appreciate all their hard work and for their unbiased opinions.” Llewellyn said he thought that a spirit of cooperation exists after the report was released at the county office building on Kelly Road.

“I think we are all headed in the right direction,” said Llewellyn. The matter may be a topic for discussion when the board of education meets Tuesday at 5 p.m. in its work session followed by its public meeting at 7 p.m.

The sheriff said it would be most beneficial to have a consistency of personnel in schools so that the students would develop a rapport with the security officer or SRO. “It has been found that many times student had knowledge of some of these tragedies prior to them occurring. By having the same officer assigned to a particular school, a rapport can be developed with the students, allowing for information sharing that could be a valuable law enforcement tool.”

About 20 people attended the half-hour session, including representatives of Maryland State Police and Cumberland and Frostburg police departments in addition to school board members and Superintendent of Schools David Cox.

A committee put together by Robertson compiled a comprehensive 13-page report on which the sheriff based his recommendations. The panel was comprised of retired federal agent G. Victor Reuschlein; John Morley, a retired Cumberland police captain and current head of security at Allegany College of Maryland; Robert Farrell, a retired Maryland State Police sergeant and current coordinator of safety, security and risk management for the Allegany County school system; Daniel Thompson, principal of Calvary Christian Academy; Lt. Randy Cutter of the sheriff’s office; and J. Robert Dick, retired Cumberland chief of police and current chief of county public safety.

The committee report included information based on interviews with school administrators, teachers and staff at various schools. The committee or an appointed subcommittee visited most of the 14 schools referenced in the study.

The report did not address security of schools in  Frostburg and Cumberland since SROs are assigned there by Frostburg and Cumberland police departments.

                    School security issues have been contentious between the county commissioners and the board of education. A board of education plan that would cost $480,000 would have employed off-duty troopers in the county schools but commissioners rejected the plan. The commissioners have stated security in the schools is the responsibility of the sheriff and the county has alloted $190,000 to implement his plan.

The county contends security funding should follow the chief elected law enforcement officer of the county, which is the sheriff. The board of education contends that it is ultimately responsible for security in the schools and that it is required by law to have a security plan for each school.

The sheriff and Cutter, the sheriff’s office operations supervisor, visited Newtown, Conn., recently to discuss school security matters. Newtown was the site of one of the nation’s worst school shootings in December when a gunman killed 20 elementary school children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The shooting gave rise to discussion of safety in schools nationwide, including Allegany County.

In other comments, the sheriff said there is no way to make schools 100 percent safe. “But we can work together and protect our children to the best of our ability,” said Robertson.

Contact Jeffrey Alderton at jlalderton@times-news.com.