Cumberland Times-News

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July 9, 2013

School board moves to bolster school security

CUMBERLAND — The Allegany County Board of Education voted on Tuesday to approve the School Safety and Security Committee’s recommendation to hire a combination of retired officers and school resource officers to provide additional school security.

The board voted to authorize Superintendent of Schools David Cox to hire recently retired, experienced, physically fit, competent, capable law enforcement professionals to provide armed protection in the schools outside of the city limits of Frostburg and Cumberland on a one-year trial basis.

“We are making decisions based on our immediate needs. As the year progresses, we will doubtlessly uncover strengths and weaknesses,” said President Ed Root.

“We look forward to working with all law enforcement agencies in Allegany County because I believe we share the same goal — the safety of our children. This should not be viewed as an exercise in power or politics or winners or losers. It’s far too important for that,” Root said.

The board also voted with four in favor and one opposed to support Sheriff Craig Robertson in hiring school resource officers for placement in schools as training and certifications are completed.

Robertson will pursue a grant to pay for three full-time SROs and Commissioner Bill Valentine, ex officio member, indicated he would also seek legislation for funding on an annual basis, as opposed to strictly grant funding.

Mike Llewellyn, board member, said the program could be added to as funding becomes available.

“There will be a time in mind when a mix of retired officers and SROs will provide the best affordable solution  for the safety and security of the children,” said Root. “We all need to remember why we are doing this and not how we are doing this.”

The board voted unanimously to direct Cox and Root to write a letter to make a budget request to the county for money to cover the costs associated with hiring the retired officers, also to allow the board to articulate the duties and services of those officers, as well as to develop a strategy to address students’ mental health.

Laurie Marchini, board vice president, said that, while the plan wasn’t perfect, she supported it.

“Nobody is really safe from this. Nobody can say, ‘This is not going to happen here,’” she said. “There is no foolproof plan. With the mental health prevention and the SROs in the school the more likely somebody is going to say something to the officer, somebody is going to say something to somebody that will reveal this plan and it will hopefully never happen.”

Robertson said in his report, titled “Allegany County School Security Plan 2013,” that it would take at least a year for SROs to be trained and placed in schools.

The retired officers and the SROs will have special police powers through the state, which will give them full police power on school grounds.

It would not give them power off of school grounds, according to Robert Farrell, a retired Maryland State Police sergeant and current coordinator of safety.

The committee recommended that the retired officers’ weapons not be visible or displayed.

“The committee does not like the idea of turning schools into armed camps,” said the report.

“Unfortunately, we do need armed guards here in the school and that’s a terrible thing to say in Allegany County, Maryland,” said Valentine. “The best protection is to stop the guy before it gets to the school house and that’s where the sheriff can really help out.”

At a cost of $480,000, the board of education’s former plan  would have employed off-duty troopers in the county schools.

Commissioners rejected the plan, stating school security is the responsibility of the sheriff.

Commissioners said the county has alloted the sheriff $190,000 to implement his plan.

Llewellyn said he thought the retired officers would be affordable and they could be hired contractually.

“Hiring them contactually means if it doesn’t work then we can get rid of it,” said Llewellyn.  “If it does work, we can continue it. We already have a contractual relationship now with the sheriff. I don’t see why we need to change that type of arrangement. ”

Llewellyn will serve as a liaison for the board in communicating with Robertson on how well the security plan is working and how it can be improved.

Board members all expressed their gratitude to Robertson and the School Safety and Security Committee that he put together.

“In some point in the future, the board needs to honor the individuals who brought us to this point — the School Safety and Security Committee and the sheriff,” said Root. “Without their efforts and time we would be no further along than we were a year ago. Through their combined work and recommendations, the kids will be the winners.’’

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com.

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