Delegate calls for police in elementary schools -- Gazette.Net


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As the nation continues to discuss the implications of the mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, a Baltimore County lawmaker wants to put more police officers in Maryland schools.

Del. John W.E. Cluster Jr. (R-Dist. 8) of Parkville has crafted a bill requiring school resource officers — sworn, active-duty police officers — to be assigned daily to every public school in the state.

Many high schools and middle schools already have such officers, Cluster said. His proposal would make the practice mandatory and add elementary schools to the mix.

“I don’t think this is controversial at all. We’re already doing it,” said Cluster, a retired Baltimore County police officer. He said he has submitted the bill as emergency legislation, so it could take effect as soon as February or March.

The state should reimburse local jurisdictions for the cost of any additional officers they would need to hire out of gambling revenue, much of which is supposed to go to the schools anyway, Cluster said. The plan would cost the state between $50 million and $70 million, he estimates.

The Dec. 14 shooting in a Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children dead has touched off a heated national debate over gun control and school safety.

A group of senators from Montgomery County and Baltimore city have proposed legislation to ban assault weapons and high-volume magazine clips in the state and give state police the power to audit gun shops.

Last week, the National Rifle Association proposed placing armed guards at schools and suggested that retired police and military personnel or even well-trained civilians would be up to the task.

Cluster made clear that his proposal would only include sworn, active-duty police officers, and that they could become good role models for the students in the schools they serve.

He also said he is skeptical of proposals such as the state assault-weapons ban, which he doesn’t feel would keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.

Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park, one of the lawmakers sponsoring the gun-control package, disagrees, but said that the additional police in schools could be an effective temporary measure.

“It’s not a crazy idea until we get the assault weapons out of civil society,” Raskin said. “But I certainly don’t see it as an acceptable alternative to getting assault weapons banned.”

Two armed police officers were present at the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado in 1999, but neither was able stop the two shooters from killing 13 people, Raskin said.

And even if armed guards at schools mildly increase security there, it does nothing to protect movie theaters, shopping centers and other public areas that have been targeted in mass shootings in the past few years, Raskin said.

Cluster said he had begun putting together his bill prior to the NRA’s announcement, and that he already had heard from several potential co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle.

Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has said the state should consider three interconnected issues in the wake of the Newtown tragedy: increased school security, keeping guns away from those with dangerous mental illnesses and a possible ban on assault weapons. He told reporters last week he would sign such a ban if it were approved by lawmakers.

O’Malley’s spokeswoman, Raquel Guillory, said that the administration had not yet reviewed Cluster’s proposal.

dleaderman@gazette.net