Two Montgomery County lawmakers have committed to doubling the number of police officers in county schools in the next fiscal year, which begins in July.
The county currently has six school resource officers, or SROs -- county police officers dedicated to the 202 schools in the
system -- plus five police officers the Montgomery County Police Department has unofficially allocated to the schools. The Gaithersburg Police Department and Rockville City Police Department also have one SRO each.
Several years ago, the county had 28 officers, with plans to eventually expand the program to include 32 officers. However, budget cuts in fiscal 2010 and 2011 caused the program to almost disappear entirely, said County Councilman Phil Andrews, D-Gaithersburg/Rockville and chairman of the council's Public Safety Committee.
Reducing the number of officers in the schools "was a big mistake," said County Councilman Craig Rice, D-Germantown. He and Andrews have insisted that the county add at least six SROs in the coming fiscal year, with the goal of eventually having one officer in each of the county's 26 high schools. Andrews even wants a few additional officers dedicated to the middle schools, putting the total closer to 30.
The county legislators' suggestions came as President Obama issued an executive order offering incentives for local governments to fund SROs, and amid cries for better security measures at public schools around the country in the wake of last month's massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.
Contrary to popular belief, the officers do more than provide added security, said Christopher Barclay, president of the Montgomery County Board of Education. "Officers in many schools end up serving as mentors, and they end up being the people in the building that young people end up building relationships with."
Having police officers in schools also allows them to prevent incidents before they occur, Andrews said. He pointed to a 2009 bomb threat against Springbrook High School's principal that was prevented by an officer's relationship with students at the school.
But one additional SRO costs roughly $100,000, said Montgomery County police spokesman Capt. Paul Starks. At a community forum Wednesday, Police Chief Thomas Manger expressed support for adding more officers to the school system, but
Starks said he could not reveal specifics of the number of officers the department would like to add.
Spokesman Patrick Lacefield said County Executive Ike Leggett is considering adding more SROs in his budget, but that it's too early to say for sure.
And though each SRO serves a valuable purpose, acting like a combination of a social worker and a police officer, Mandi Mader, the mother of a sixth-grade student at Tilden Middle School and a 10th-grade student at Walter Johnson High School, advocated against relying too much on them.
"I want to be careful that we don't overreact with security and make our kids more anxious," she said.