Amid a national conversation about whether more officers and teachers should be armed in schools, data compiled by the News4 I-Team shows many schools in the Washington, D.C. region already have dedicated officers.
Police officers are deployed at nearly all high schools and a growing number of middle schools in the region, police and school district records show. School resource officers (SROs) are sworn police officers, many of whom are armed, and assigned posts at local schools.
Agency records show every high school and middle school in Fairfax County, Loudoun County and Prince William County has at least one assigned school resource officer.
“The department’s School Resource Program is effective not only in providing security to the school facility itself, but it is also beneficial in providing an opportunity for officers to positively engage with our youth to foster and build relationships,” Prince William County police department spokesman Jonathan Perok said.
In Howard County, Montgomery County and Prince George's County, all high schools have officers, but only some middle schools. In 2017, the Montgomery County Council considered a boost in funding to spread officers to a larger number of middle schools.
Our SRO program is community policing at its best, and at the same time, an additional security measure to keep our children safe," Craig Rice, chair of the Montgomery County Council education committee said. "We are also looking at expanding our SRO program to middle schools in response to parents' concerns about safety in those schools as well."
In D.C., 109 members of the Metropolitan Police Department are responsible for school safety, spokesman Dustin Sternbeck said. Eighty-nine of these members are school resource officers. The other members are supervisors but maintain a presence in the schools too, Sternbeck said.
Smaller city police departments also provide officers for schools, including in Arlington and Hyattsville.
Prince George’s County said assignments for officers are based on an assessment of security needs.
"School resource officers are professionals who help maintain safe and orderly learning environments. They listen to students, parents and staff members to facilitate information sharing," school district spokesman John White said. "They are role models and provide critical safety and crime prevention services, plus immediate access to county resources in an emergency.”
Frederick County Public Schools said it has resource officers at all 10 of its high schools, and a set of “roaming officers” from the county’s sheriff’s department and the City of Frederick police department. Those officers “travel to all schools,” district spokesman Michael Doerrer said.
The presence of a school resource officer does not guarantee safety. An armed officer in uniform was present during the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, but he "never went in," the county sheriff said Thursday.
School district security staffers also are assigned posts in local school buildings. Unlike police officers, those security staffers are school district employees and not sworn law enforcement. A 2017 investigation by the News-4 I-Team found a large number of those security staffers are not licensed by either state police or state departments of education.
It was not immediately clear if any officers had been added to local schools since the Florida shooting. Budget discussions are underway in D.C. and counties across the region.