Montgomery Co. community policing bill axes expansion of school resource officers

A bill that requires the county police to report on training practices, on all use-of-force cases that result in injury, and on complaints of discrimination and harassment will go to the full Montgomery County Council for a vote next month.

One item not included: a requirement to expand the school resource officer (SRO) program. The bill was amended to remove that requirement after public meetings where some residents voiced concerns about police treatment of students in schools.

Montgomery County police Chief Marcus Jones said he understood that there are concerns about the role that school resource officers play.

He said he recognized that there’s a perception that police are stationed in schools simply to carry out arrests. But, he argued, that’s not the intent of the program.

“We have a memorandum of understanding with the school system about when we make an arrest in school and when we don’t,” Jones said.

He said some types of offenses will generate an arrest at a school — such as when a student brings a firearm to school, which recently happened at Clarksburg High School.

Jones said the purpose of the SRO program is to build relationships with students and head off potential problems. “We’re getting information from students that fights might occur at school, and those are being interrupted” by officers, Jones said.

Council President Sidney Katz, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, said he’s aware of the reasons for the opposition to adding SROs.

“When and if there’s ever a problem, then we need to deal with that problem,” said Katz.

But, he added, “I think in general that people realize that school resource officers truly are an ‘Officer Friendly’ for our students,” referring to the role of police as helpful figures and even mentors in school settings.

Council member Gabe Albornoz said he understands the reservations that many parents may have about police in schools, but added, “I can’t stress enough that these officers are trained extensively on how to address the social and emotional needs of youth within those schools.”

Albornoz also said that police in Montgomery County are specially recruited to serve as SROs, and “not just plucked off the street from different beats.”

On Monday, the Montgomery County Council Public Safety Committee voted 2-0 to send the bill to the full council. Their vote on the measure is tentatively scheduled for March 3.

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