Officers in Montgomery Co. schools are out, but plans for Community Engagement Officers are incomplete

For the first time in 19 years, kids went back to school in Montgomery County, Maryland, without encountering a police officer in the building. But the plan to replace them is not finalized, even though kids are already back in the classroom.

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said the Community Engagement Officers who have replaced Police School Resources Officers are assigned to a school cluster and will respond if a staff member calls 911.

“We do not expect confusion during the first week of school. MCPS had preliminary training with administrators in this process,” said Elrich during a weekly coronavirus briefing with council members.

But school administrators don’t have clarity on which circumstances they would call the community engagement officers to respond, nor what the specific duties of the officers are. The county school board confirms it has not received an updated “Memorandum of Understanding,” an agreement between county police and schools that lists those details, among other things.

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“If there is a need for an officer to respond, they will have a number they can call and the officer will respond as soon as they possibly can. Obviously, you don’t have the advantage of the officer being on-scene, so there might be a delayed response time. But they’re working all of those details out,” said John McCarthy, the county’s state’s attorney.

His office weighed in on how the removal of SROs could affect prosecutions involving crimes on school property but did not take part in the working group to establish the scope of the Community Engagement Officers’ operations.

Most stakeholders — including Montgomery County schools — confirm that the final draft of the MOU is more of a rubber stamp to finalize the working understanding of a new approach to protecting schools and supporting students.

“They have devised a plan in place so that there will be officers patrolling the general areas of our high schools. And we’ll continue to work on establishing relationships with the administrations of those schools, but they will not physically be present in the school. And the hope is that we alleviate some of the concerns raised by principals and parents as well, about the school resource officers not being in the schools,” said At-Large Council member Gabe Albornoz.

Based on community feedback, and pushback from some groups that felt the council did not go far enough in removing SROs from school grounds, the system plans to use funding from the American Rescue Plan to place social workers into schools as an additional resource as early as this fall.

“Our hope is that this is a seamless transition that continues to ensure the safety and security of everyone involved and that we address holistically the mental health needs and the social and emotional needs, because the conversation regarding social workers is very much connected to ensuring that we provide robust support for our children, youth and families,” Albernoz said.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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