Debate Surfaces Over Request For More School Cops

SNOW HILL – The County Commissioners went back and forth
over funding three school resource officers requested in the Sheriff’s
Department budget during a work session Tuesday.

Worcester County Sheriff Chuck Martin requested three new
deputies specifically to patrol and work with the schools on security and
safety, an outgrowth of community policing.

Threats do not simply come from disruptive students, he
said, but also from parents, teachers and visitors. However, Martin cautioned
he was not saying that Worcester County schools have a violence problem.

“I believe we’re getting mixed messages here,” said
Commissioner Judy Boggs.

During a recent meeting with the Board of Education and
staff, both Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jon Andes and Board of Education
member Sara Thompson told the commissioners that behavior problems in the
schools were stable.

“I would hesitate to add law enforcement resource officers
to our schools,” she said.

However, Boggs’ opinion touched a sensitive nerve with
some of her colleagues.

“I disagree with you,” interrupted Commission President
Jim Purnell.

However, Boggs would not concede the additional deputies
were needed.

“We have not received any documented need from the school
board,” Boggs said.

Again Boggs was interrupted, this time by Commissioner Bud
Church. “Want to wait till there’s a problem?,” he asked.

However, once again she would not be dissuaded.

“Excuse me,” said Boggs. “We’ve heard nothing.”

Purnell said recent events make improving school safety
more important then ever.

“It may prevent somebody from getting seriously hurt or
even losing their life,” Purnell said. “Now’s the time we step up to the plate
and start protecting our schools even more.”

Martin said the request originated with the schools.

“They came to me and asked for school resource officers,”
he said.

School officials agreed they have expressed a need for
more security help from the sheriff’s department.

“We have a history of supporting school resource
officers,” replied Andes when asked about the matter during the Wednesday
budget session.

Berlin has been providing a school resource officer from
the Berlin Police Department, as has Snow Hill, but the grants paying for the
officers are evaporating.

“It becomes more competitive and some agencies don’t get
the dollars,” said Andes.

Andes described the role of the school resource officers
as prevention, intervention and education. School resource officers would be a
source of intelligence about the schools if an incident occurred, Martin said.   

The sheriff said he would want all three officers to know
each and every door in all 14 schools.

“We’ve reached a point where our students are practicing
lockdowns,” said Martin.

Church recalled witnessing an attempted parental
kidnapping at Ocean City Elementary and mentioned another incident of a parent
assaulting a teacher. Nonetheless, Boggs questioned whether the additional
officers were necessary.

“I really do not want to see police cars in front of our
schools,” Boggs said.

Boggs said she does not want to send the message that the
schools are not safe.

With 20 percent of the county population in the schools on
any school day, Andes said school resource officers make sense. Church agreed.

“The most valuable resource we have in this county is our children,” he
said.

Very few taxpayers would complain about the cost of three
officers, vehicles, uniforms and gear for school resource officers, he said,
adding, “I think it’s money very well spent.”

Commissioner Bob Cowger, whose son attends Pocomoke High
School, said the Board of Education does not release all the information on
violent incidents within the schools.

“I’m
glad [my son] will be getting out of that high school. There are problems in
our schools,” Cowger said. “I’m not going to put a monetary value on my son’s
life.” 

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