Cumberland Times-News

April 3, 2013

Armed, off-duty cops on school grounds?

Greg Larry
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — Following heated debate on the floor of the House of Delegates in Annapolis, the new gun control bill may include an amendment permitting armed, off-duty police officers the right to be on school property in some circumstances, Delegate Kevin Kelly said on Wednesday.

As Maryland continues to hammer out a new gun control bill during its legislative session, the Democrat-controlled House has shown little desire to allow armed officers in schools.

However, following what Kelly referred to as “a lot of friction,” Gov. Martin O’Malley agreed to accept language that would allow a provision for off-duty police officers in civilian attire to be on school grounds, as long as their weapon is concealed and their badges are displayed.

“I’m totally opposed to the gun control bill, but I think this is a good amendment,” said Kelly.

The provision could be seen by some as opening the door for the acceptance of armed officers at schools.

As the amendment continues to be modified, it may end up only allowing armed,  off-duty officers onto school grounds if they are required to be there as guardian to their children or other individuals under their care.

Kelly described the current law regarding off-duty officers in civilian attire when present in the vicinity of schools.

“If the officer sees a crime, under what is known as ‘color of law,’ he is instantly on duty and can deal with the crime,” said Kelly.

Kelly said that if the off-duty officer had a gun and wanted to go onto the school grounds and pick up a loved one such as his or her child, current law claims he or she is in violation.

“It can only be seen as enhanced security at the schools and at (school) sporting events; and it doesn’t cost the taxpayer a penny,” said Kelly.

As the subject heated up in Annapolis, according to Kelly, O’Malley apparently saw the problems associated with the current law and decided to throw his support behind the amendment.

“It creates a force multiplier. The officer could stop the carnage right there,” said Kelly.

Gun control has been a controversial topic across the nation following the rash of shootings including the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy that saw the loss of 20 children and six adults.

The Allegany County Board of Education has wanted to hire five school resource officers and two mental health professionals.

The resource officers, who may be retired law enforcement personnel, differ from the off-duty police officers referred to in the amendment.

The board is wanting to extend contracts to the retired officers who will then be under their employ.

However, attempts to secure the $500,000 in funding from the county to add the employees received a cool reception from county officials.

School board member Mike Llewellyn, who has said he does not speak for the board as a body, was pleased with the state showing some signs of openness to the idea of armed officers on school property.

“It’s a move in the right direction. I’m in support of law enforcement officers to be on school grounds,” said Llewellyn.

The gun control bill, known as State Bill 281, passed the House on Wednesday by a vote of 78-61.

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