Police Officers Assigned to Six Middle Schools

… Officers will have positive influence on students, officials say …


By David Greisman, dgreisman@tribune.com

4:46 PM EST, January 13, 2012

Three Howard County police officers will be placed in six middle schools starting next week, a program school and police officials described as less about combating crime and more about preventing criminal behavior.

“The officer’s goal is to build positive relationships with the students, to encourage good decision-making and positive behaviors,” said police spokeswoman Elizabeth Schroen. “Middle school is a time when students are facing peer pressure. Things like drugs and alcohol are being introduced. It’s important to have positive role models.”

Starting Jan. 17, each officer will spend time in two middle schools: Harper’s Choice and Wilde Lake in Columbia; Lake Elkhorn and Oakland Mills, also in Columbia; and Mayfield Woods in Elkridge and Patuxent Valley in Jessup. The officers will be armed and in uniform.

The program’s funding comes out of a $400,000 allocation from the county government’s operating budget. That money adds four positions to the police department’s “authorized strength,” three of which are the middle school officers. (The role for the fourth has not been determined, Schroen said.)

Police academy graduates will fill the vacancies these new positions created, Schroen said.

The six schools were selected because they have programs after the school day where the officers can interact with students, said Kevin Burnett, Howard County Public School System’s coordinator for school security.

Elementary-school students are often in after-school care programs and high-school students often have their own transportation and extracurricular activities. But middle school students “kind of get caught in that void when the parents aren’t home,” Burnett said. “They’re old enough to stay by themselves. But often without direction they can get into trouble.”

The officers will see the students in the after-school programs — “if it’s sports, they’ll be right out there with them,” Burnett said — but also during the school days. They will work as instructors within classes, mentor students and, when needed, enforce the law.

“You’ll see a police car parked out front, and it won’t necessarily be a bad thing,” Burnett said.

Police officers have been in all of the county’s high schools since 2001, Schroen said, which has helped the police stay aware of what’s going on in the community and in the schools.

The middle school program will bring the same benefit, Burnett and Schroen said.

“If there are fights or any kind of difficulties between students, we can identify that early and get involved so it doesn’t escalate,” Schroen said.

Burnett emphasized that the program is intended to create positive interactions between students and police officers early in the kids’ lives.

He said that while there is some criminal behavior among middle school students, it is nowhere near as much in Howard County as in other jurisdictions.

“We’re trying to keep it that way,” he said.

If the program is deemed successful, Schroen said, it could be expanded to other schools.

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