(March 1, 2013) With a request to fund a baker’s dozen of school safety officers slated to be heard by the Worcester County Commissioners next week, the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office has said that the additional personnel, if obtained, would constitute a new paradigm for school security.
Last week, the Worcester County Board of Education voted unanimously to back a request by the sheriff’s office to have 13 new officers — one for each of the county’s school campuses — included in the upcoming budget for the 2014 fiscal year.
Worcester County’s schools have had officers in the past, often referred to as School Resource Officers. While these officers provided a layer of security, an SRO’s more common duty was “as another community liaison and problem solver … helping to educate students about conflict resolution and the law,” according to a briefing by Fred Grant, the county’s supervisor of student services, written following approval for the fiscal year 2008 budget of three officers to staff the county’s three high schools.
But the 13 officers proposed to be hired this year will not be involved in that role.
“They will not be going, at least entirely, to the SRO school,” said Col. Doug Dods of the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office this week.
“Their job is to provide physical security, not to do SRO duties. There are some schools that are still thinking along the SRO line, but that is not the case here.”
The county first began an SRO program in 1996, which was developed and intermittently expanded up through 2008. Since then, however, personnel and budget constraints have scaled back the program.
“Sheriff Martin [former sheriff Chuck Martin] had to pull them out because we were just getting slammed on the road,” Dods said.
Currently, the county’s only dedicated SRO is Sgt. Matt Crisafulli, who runs the D.A.R.E. program. According to Dods, the Berlin Police Department also has an officer assigned to Stephen Decatur Middle School, but all other police presence in schools is part of regular patrol duty. The 13 proposed new officers, however, will be devoted entirely to providing real-time security.
“They’re going to be titled as ‘School Security Deputies,’” Dods said. “Their primary mission is to provide physical security in and around the schools.”
Crisafulli will continue in the SRO role and will not be part of the school security division, Dods added.
“They’ll be patrolling, going in and around the schools – depending on the size of the facility, they may get in the car and cruise around. A lot of the details we’re still trying to work out,” Dods said.
The sheriff’s personnel request is one element of a larger school safety improvement plan, developed by the county’s school system in conjunction with local law enforcement following the December shooting at Sandy Hook (Connecticut) Elementary School. Other changes, to be included in the capital budget for the school system itself, include door buzzers, ID scanners, and window tinting.
While only one part of the solution, security officers are likely the most expensive one. According to Dods, first-year costs per new officer — including salary, equipment, and training — average $120,989. Second-year costs come to $63,436 per officer.
There is still a slim possibility that the county could get state help in funding the officers, as a bill currently in the Maryland House of Delegates’ Ways and Means Committee would require all of the state’s school districts to provide police details. Those counties that do not have the budget headroom to pride them would be subsidized through the state’s Education Trust Fund, which takes its income from lottery and casino taxes.
However, according to bill co-sponsor Delegate Mike McDermott, allocations from the trust fund are already mostly set and unlikely to be available.
“It’s a great idea, but it’s an idea that probably should’ve been put forward when they were deciding about those appropriations in the beginning,” McDermott said. “There shouldn’t be any county waiting to do this [fund SROs], or waiting for the state to do this, because it’s likely not going to happen soon.”