Cumberland Times-News

July 18, 2013

Armed guards to patrol all county schools beginning in August

Greg Larry
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — Although details are still being ironed out, officials with the Allegany County Board of Education are expressing relief that a plan has been developed that will place security officers in schools when they open in August.

Members of the Allegany County Board of Education are scheduled to meet with Allegany County Sheriff’s Office officials on July 25 to coordinate the first-ever enhanced school security plan, which brings trained law enforcement officers with access to firearms into all 23 public and three private schools in the county.

“I feel good about it. I can say for certain that our kids will be a little bit safer this fall,” said Mike Llewellyn, board member and liaison for security to the Sheriff’s Office.

The plan currently includes the hiring of about five security officers by the board, who will be in the schools on opening day.

“The guards will not wear a uniform but will have a concealed firearm,” said Llewellyn.

In addition, the sheriff’s office is also looking to add officers to be used in the schools.

Officers added through the sheriff’s office may take longer to get in place due to additional training and administrative processing.

A committee made up of local law enforcement officers and educators recently studied school security and recommended recently retired police officers as prime candidates for the security work.

The hope is that the schools will eventually have fully trained security officers, known as school resource officers.

The officers typically have all the necessary training making them a specialist in school security, including a certification to teach a drug awareness program known as DARE.

According to Llewellyn, the security plan contains five patrols:

• Georges Creek, which will include Westmar Middle School and Westernport Elementary.

• Parkside and Cash Valley Elementary.

• Cresaptown and Bel Air Elementary with the Career Center and Calvary Christian Academy.

• Flintstone and North East Elementary and Lighthouse Christian Academy.

• The Mount Savage School.

Cumberland and Frostburg schools, along with the Alternative School in Eckhart, have already been receiving security coverage.

“I didn’t want to see these kids in the outlying areas not get the same coverage,” said Llewellyn.

The response time by law enforcement to any incidents and ways to improve it have been a primary concern for education officials.

“Response time is critical; With the plan that is worked out, the response time should be OK,” said Llewellyn.

The process of getting the security plan to this point created a lot of tension between the board and county commissioners, particularly over funding.

The board’s initial request in March for financial backing from the county, a major funding source, was for $480,000. In addition to officers, the plan also included enhanced mental health coverage.

The county subsequently allotted $190,000 and announced it will be dispersed to the sheriff’s office to operate the security plan. The board had requested that they receive the funds and be allowed to administer their plan.

Board members grew frustrated by the lack of trust it felt it was shown when the funding was placed in the sheriff’s office hands.

 “We were told that it would take up to two years for the sheriff’s office to get officers in place. We needed something in place when school opened,” said David Cox, superintendent of schools.

Cox said the school board could not go two years without protection for the students.

“Now, we need to figure out how to pay for it,” said Llewellyn.

The board fears having to use money in their general funds that may result in the cutting of educational programs.

“We may try to borrow from different line items across the board. We hope we don’t have to cut entire programs,” said Llewellyn.

Llewellyn was asked about the journey the plan has taken.

“Back in January there wasn’t even any public discussion on this. You just have to keep your focus on the safety of the kids,” said Llewellyn.

The process has many challenges to still be resolved.

“It hasn’t been a pretty process,” said Llewellyn.

He said the plan will be reviewed after one year.

“I want to do it for a one-year trial basis. We can then see if it helps or what changes made need done,” said Llewellyn.

With the board and the sheriff’s office preparing officers for duty, a decision will need to be made on what mix of officers would be best suited for the security detail.

Speaking in light of the Sandy Hook school shooting tragedy, the commission study advised: “No jurisdiction can any longer say, ‘It will never happen here.’”

Greg Larry can be contacted at glarry@times-news.com