House Bill 522 would impact the role school resource officers play in schools
MARYLAND – When you walk through the halls of many schools, you won’t just see students, teachers, and staff. You’ll also see a police officer who’s there to ensure safety for the school. “They are there for not only the protection of school personnel and out kids. But the most important thing is they are there to build bonds with our students,” said Worcester County Sheriff Matt Crisafulli.
House Bill 522 would add onto the training those school resource officers, or SROs, must go through. Sheriff Crisafulli says many of those officers are deputies with local sheriff departments. “They go through the basic school resource officer training. They are sworn deputies. Their value, in the school, you cannot gauge statistically,” said Sheriff Crisafulli.
HB522 would also encourage schools to have their SROs take restorative approaches. Local school districts would also have to implement behavioral health and safety action plans before assigning school resource officers. “That particular school may need someone with a different temperament, may need someone who is more engaged or involved,” said Speaker Pro Tempore Sheree Sample-Hughes.
Part of the behavioral health action plan would require schools to monitor the number of student arrests and expulsions for non-violent behavior. The bill also allows for school districts to use grants for school resource officers and behavioral health services.
But some opponents fear the bill would limit the authority those officers have when tackling dangerous situations. Those limitations include putting a stop to from officers stepping in, unless there’s a risk of serious injury or harm. “I’m hearing from students, teachers, parents, community leaders, business leaders that say ‘We support this program, and we do not want to weaken our SROs,'” said State Senator Mary Beth Carozza.
Sen. Carozza says she believes the SRO program on the Lower Eastern Shore is working just fine. “If there are issues in other schools and other parts of the state, then you should deal with that locally. But there’s no need to jeopardize a successful program in my three counties,” said Sen. Carozza.
Sen. Carozza also tells 47ABC she also fears the bill may weaken the positive impact SROs have on their school communities. “SROs become mentors for many students. To think that we have legislation that would weaken the role of our school resource officers makes no sense at all,” said Sen. Carozza.
Speaker Pro Tempore Sample-Hughes also says that SROs play a valuable role in schools through providing safety and a positive role model for some students. “We see throughout the nation concerns where young people are crying out for help. They want to be heard. They may not have the role model within the home or community. So often times the responsibility is left there in the school,” said Speaker Pro Tempore Sample-Hughes.
However, Speaker Pro Tempore Sample-Hughes says she has concerns over the role SROs play locally. Plus, she says stripping officers of their authority isn’t the point of the bill. “This particular bill speaks to making sure the administrators of each school building are responsible for their code of conduct, but not putting it solely on their school resource officers,” said Speaker Pro Tempore Sample-Hughes.
With that in mind, Speaker Pro Tempore Sample-Hughes says making sure students are kept safe from harm also includes keeping school resource officers accountable. “Some small infractions or in classroom disruption is taken to another level, and then bringing in law enforcement where they may not really have a role,” said Speaker Pro Tempore Sample-Hughes.
The bill passed the house. Now it’s on to the Senate for further review.