What place do police officers have in Montgomery County's public schools?
The issue of how to fund school resource officers continues to baffle county officials.
The county's schools, police and council all recognize the benefit of the placing officers at local public high schools, but disagree as to its implementation and its scope.
Police Chief Thomas Manger in January told the council that adding officers to schools would .
With the budget cuts in previous years, only one SROs has been assigned to each police district, although previously the county boasted one officer per school cluster. The cities of Gaithersburg and Rockville supply officers to their city high schools, and the county provides supplemental coverage with five other county officers assigned to part-time duties at the schools.
Councilmember Craig Rice (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown supported adding a full complement of resource officers back into the schools this budget season. Barring that, he and Council Public Safety Committee Chair Phil Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg, suggested assigning the five supplemental officers official SRO roles.
“To me school resource officers are community policing at its best," Rice said. "A full complement of school resource officers is a great way in which we can attack the very problems that we get up here and talk about every day.”
Councilmember Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring chairs the council education committee and said she wasn't ready to see the program fully reinstated.
"The issue is, who’s going to pay for them?" Ervin said. "I think we need a working group made up of parents, administrators, police officers and others to determine whether or not it is a good idea to expand the program."
As Ervin questioned the logistics of the program such as how many school buildings actually need to have an SRO and who would determine how that individual works, she also said she and her constituents were concerned with the impact of pulling officers off the streets to staff school programs.
"I was very surprised to hear from my constituents who would rather the council direct this money to cops on the street not the cops in school districts," Ervin said. "This was a huge issue with the IDA sector because last year the council made the determination to go ahead and fund SROs at the expense of actual police officers on the street."
Ervin said she found it difficult to justify the expense of paying for school resource officers out of the county budget, when Montgomery County Public Schools has a $2.3 billion operating budget.
“I will not support adding anymore police officers to schools until we all sit down together and reach some sort of agreement,” she said.
The public safety committee ultimately recommended on Tuesday a sort of compromise between adding additional SROs and adding none.
"We ended up recommending that the department continue at least the same resource allocation now in the coming year, which has 11 officers assigned as SROs or assigned primarily to the schools," Andrews said.
The committee also asked the MCPD to continue looking into a plan to grow the program's staffing and to work with MCPS on drafting a new memorandum of understanding.
How that debate shapes out remains to be seen, but MCPS says it supports the SRO program as well.
"Dr. [Joshua] Starr has said that he believes in the school resource officer program as part of an overall effort to keep students safe at school," said MCPS spokesman Dana Tofig.
Manger told the council he is ready for a new trans-departmental discussion of the issue.
“I’ve had a couple of very brief conversations with the superintendent about the SRO program, and I think he has some very specific ideas,” Manger said. “I think the time for that conversation is here, and I’m happy to participate in that.
"The whole purpose of the SRO program in my opinion is to provide a safe learning environment for kids in our schools. I want kids to go to schools and not every have to think about the fact that they might not be safe.”
What do you think is the best solution? Should the county allocate more resources to staffing officers at public schools? Should this be the responsibility of Montgomery County Public Schools? How would the program work?