Montgomery police, educators have joint safety training before school year



Ahead of the new school year, dozens of Montgomery County police officers and teachers sat Monday in an auditorium for training on how to respond to crimes and infractions at school.

Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones said the training at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda was one of the first times that educators and law enforcement have trained together, and it comes as police are returning to county schools this year on a limited basis.

The Maryland school system pulled school resource officers out of schools last year and created a program in which officers patrolled areas around schools but were not stationed inside. After a shooting critically injured a student at Magruder High School in Rockville in January, the school system and the police department reached an agreement in April that delineated how schools and police should work together. That agreement allows for school police, known as community engagement officers, to not be stationed in schools permanently but to have designated work stations inside to use when responding to serious incidents. School officials will handle discipline and other policy issues.

“Us on both sides, we really have to get this right,” Jones told the crowd. “We don’t want any entity — whether it’s the school system or the police departments — to have a bad stain on our record simply because we failed.”

As county officials attempt to curb the significant rise in youth violence since the pandemic began, the police department also announced a new call line, which will launch on Aug. 1, designated for school staff to contact the department for nonemergencies. The call line is a pilot program, but Jones said Monday that he hoped it will prove effective and continue.

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Monday’s training detailed how and when community engagement officers will take the lead on responding to incidents in schools. Under the agreement, the school district’s employees are required to contact police for 12 specific events — including robbery and incidents involving drugs.

Some of the 12 incidents require police to take charge, said Stacey Flynn, director of the police department’s community engagement division, but the agreement has flexibility. Flynn gave the example of a robbery conducted by two 10-year-olds, in which they pushed another student down and took pencils.

“What do you guys think? Should we be arresting a 10-year-old?” Flynn asked the crowd. The teachers and police officers shook their heads and said no.

“Everybody recognizes that every situation is unique and different,” Flynn said, and that most incidents should be a “teachable moment” rather than ending in an arrest.

School staff can use the new call line to reach police if one of the 12 incidents occurs. They can also use the call line if a police presence is needed, such as for help with traffic control, Jones said.

In the last school year, there were 2,900 service calls to schools, 1,200 police reports written and 600 consequences rolled out. When a consequence was necessary, school staff took the lead 80 percent of the time.

“That’s the direction we want to continue to go in,” Flynn said.

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Montgomery County Superintendent Monifa McKnight said the partnership with the police department was “one part of a bigger puzzle.”

The school system’s leaders have been questioned by parents, students and county council members about why they decided to bring police back into schools before a slate of mental health initiatives takes effect. McKnight noted that the school system has health and wellness resources, including school-based centers that are expanding to every county high school.

“The work involves many partners and extends far beyond the school day,” McKnight said.

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