Montgomery County to form task force on school policing alternatives

Maryland

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. (WDVM) — The conversation surrounding policing in schools continues as Montgomery County takes more steps toward removing officers from its school buildings.

Montgomery County Councilmembers Will Jawando and Craig Rice are working to put together a new task force challenged with taking a hard look at the services students need in schools and who can best provide them, the two councilmembers announced Monday.

The announcement comes weeks after the release of police body camera footage from a 2020 incident involving a kindergartener and Montgomery County Police officers. Both councilmembers say police officers have been in situations at schools where a mental health professional or another adult may have better handled the matter.

“Wherever you are on the issue of SROs, the fact remains that last year when school was in session, you had an SRO in every high school, but you didn’t have a school psychologist in every high school,” said Jawando.

Earlier this year, Jawando and Rice butt heads over the SRO issue. Each of them introduced opposing bills on the school resource officer (SRO) debate.

Jawando has been an outspoken advocate for the removal of officers from schools and introduced a bill prohibiting SROs. Rice, until recently, was a strong supporter of the SRO program. His bill would have allowed officers in schools at the request of the superintendent.

On Monday, Rice said his conversations with students, parents, and community members over the last several months changed his mind. He now stands with Jawando and supports the removal of officers along with the implementation of additional mental health services and social supports in schools.

Jawando and Rice say they know the police will need to respond to some incidents in schools. If the council’s current plans move forward, officers will no longer be stationed on school grounds but out in the community. The council members want the task force to develop a new approach when it comes to interacting with students.

“A restorative justice practice, a practice that’s going to be supportive. Something that’s going to be nurturing to the fact that some of our students are experiencing mental health challenges,” said Rice.

“We know that coming out of COVID, all of our students are going to need these supports more than ever,” said Jawando.

Jawando also said about 70 percent of juveniles in the justice system have a diagnosed mental illness.

Funding for several school resource officer positions was cut from the county’s proposed FY22 budget.

When that budget was released in March, County Executive Marc Elrich said he was on board with the plan to remove officers from schools. He also said Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones also supported plans to move to a community-based approach to policing in schools.

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