A variety of opinions about school-based police were shared Thursday during a hearing about proposed legislation to enhance the training of officers while they remain stationed in school buildings.
Some people spoke in favor of the bill during a hearing, saying they believe the officers make schools safer, help build positive relationships with law enforcement officers and provide “invaluable” support to students and families.
Others countered by calling the legislation “embarrassing,” a “facade for those who wish to take no action on this issue” and “hypocritical” to the county’s pledge to combat racism.
The bill, introduced by Council Members Sidney Katz and Craig Rice, would legally authorize the county police chief to assign school resource officers to county schools, if requested by the MCPS superintendent.
It would also require new school officers to undergo a year of “mentoring” from an “experienced and highly rated school resource officer” and to get several different types of training.
The split of speakers in support of and opposition to the proposal was about 50-50 on Thursday.
Many students who spoke during Thursday’s hearing said they oppose the legislation, as did the leaders of many community organizations and a representative for County Executive Marc Elrich.
Kyson Taylor, a student, said he was “angry” the bill was introduced because it ignores students’ input. While some who support having SROs say they often act as mentors, Taylor disagreed.
“Your mentors should not handcuff you,” he said.
But some students shared an alternate perspective.
Renoir Dawson-Finan, a former MCPS student, said that when he was in high school, he didn’t see “a culture of fear, or hear any experiences where students were afraid … by (SROs) mere presence.”
Gaithersburg Mayor Jud Ashman, former school board President Mike Durso, Clarksburg High School Principal Edward Owusu, some MCPS employees and community members spoke in favor of the Rice-Katz bill.
Ashman said the city has had an “overwhelmingly positive” relationship with the Gaithersburg High School SRO and he believes the officer has provided mentorship to students.
He said he agrees there is a racial disparity in student arrests, but there is no proof school-based police are “at the root of the disparity.” In fact, he said, most student arrests in recent years were initiated by MCPS staff members, not the SRO.
So, he said, “how are SROs the problem here?”
Rice and Katz’s bill is being considered at the same time there is opposing legislation, introduced by Hans Riemer and Will Jawando.
The Riemer-Jawando bill would prohibit police from being stationed in schools.
The school board is also conducting its own review of the SRO program, set to be completed in May. Public hearings about its review were held on Tuesday and Thursday.