You can never be too safe

QA’s to in­crease po­lice pres­ence to end of school year

Sunday Star - - FRONT PAGE - By HAN­NAH COMBS hcombs@kibay­times.com

CENTREVILLE — The sher­iff’s of­fice will in­crease its pres­ence in county schools through the end of the school year, Queen Anne’s County Sher­iff Gary Hof­mann told county com­mis­sion­ers Tues­day, May 22.

The sher­iff’s of­fice, Queen Anne’s County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion and the county com­mis­sion­ers also will be work­ing to de­velop a se­cu­rity plan for all county schools the start of the 2018-2019 school year in the fall.

Hof­mann said the sher­iff’s of­fice would have deputies in all ar­eas of the county pro­vid­ing cov­er­age to schools, with rou­tine pa­trols and es­pe­cially at the start and end of the school day.

County res­i­dents will get a let­ter in the mail from the Queen Anne’s County Com­mis­sion­ers re­gard­ing the com­mis­sion­ers’ unan­i­mous de­ci­sion to in­crease po­lice pres­ence in schools.

Dur­ing the meet­ing, Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Stephen

Wil­son said, “I think it’s re­ally im­por­tant that the ci­ti­zens know that we’re re­ally do­ing our best and that tele­vi­sion has turned the en­tire coun­try into one big vil­lage, so that when peo­ple hear some­thing hap­pened in Cal­i­for­nia, it feels like it’s next door. I want to re­as­sure peo­ple that ev­ery­thing that can be done is be­ing done. That is the point of the let­ter.”

“The sher­iff, the board of ed­u­ca­tion and the county com­mis­sion­ers co­op­er­ated for a num­ber of years to pro­vide safe and se­cure class­rooms in our county,” Com­mis­sioner Mark An­der­son said. “The sher­iff, rec­og­niz­ing the top pri­or­ity, has found a way to cover all of our schools by ef­fec­tive man­age­ment of his cur­rent staffing through the end of this school year.

“Joint ef­forts of the par­ties will re­sult in a se­cu­rity plan for all schools (K through 12) to be in place for the be­gin­ning of this fall term. For ob­vi­ous rea­sons, some as­pects of these plans will not be made pub­lic.”

While there is no spe­cific threat to the county’s schools, Com­mis­sioner Jack Wil­son dis­cussed the emo­tional toll of school vi­o­lence across the coun­try.

“Fear, whether per­ceived or real, is still fear,” Jack Wil­son said. “It would be ir­re­spon­si­ble for us as com­mis­sion­ers to not do what we can to min­i­mize that fear for our par­ents, teach­ers and, above all, the stu­dents. Un­for­tu­nately, in our world to­day, we have to face these chal­lenges, and I am happy that our com­mis­sion, along with the sher­iff and school board, rec­og­nize that and are do­ing what we can.”

Com­mis­sioner Robert Buckey said he and the sher­iff have been work­ing on this is­sue for seven months to find a way to make kids feel safer at school.

“I look for­ward to work­ing with the sher­iff and school board,” he said.

Hof­mann thanked the county com­mis­sion­ers and the school board for work­ing with him to make the schools safer.

“These tragedies across our na­tion are touch­ing each and ev­ery one of us in a very, very per­sonal way,” Hof­mann said. “Imag­ine back in the day when you stepped in the class­room, shut the door, and you were free from bul­ly­ing or worry of who is go­ing to bang through the door to cre­ate havoc. Schools used to be a safe sanc­tu­ary.”

“We’ve come up with a plan, a few months ago, to make sure our schools are safe,” the sher­iff said. “I’m not go­ing to dis­close the ac­tual plan, but many of you have seen an in­crease in law en­force­ment at the schools.”

Hof­mann said his of­fice re­mains ded­i­cated to en­sur­ing the safety of all stu­dents and staff in Queen Anne’s County schools. Un­der­stand­ing the de­sire to have full-time of­fi­cers sta­tioned in all the county’s schools, Hof­mann has been work­ing with QACPS Su­per­in­ten­dent Dr. An­drea Kane and county com­mis­sion­ers to de­ter­mine what that need is ex­actly and how it might be put into place.

Pos­si­bil­i­ties in­clude po­si­tion­ing a full-time deputy at each school, im­ple­ment­ing DARE or a sim­i­lar pro­gram, or hav­ing the school pro­vide se­cu­rity guards and metal de­tec­tors. Hof­mann said if his deputies are full time at in­di­vid­ual schools, he would like to see their ser­vices max­i­mized in ed­u­ca­tion and oth­er­wise in­te­grated into the school sys­tem.

Kane has not yet said which di­rec­tion the school sys­tem is likely to pur­sue, and work ses­sions be­tween the two sys­tems will con­tinue as they work to­ward their com­mon goal of en­sur­ing the safety of all stu­dents.

May and June are a busy time of year for the school and par­ents with end-of-the-year ac­tiv­i­ties and grad­u­a­tion ap­proach­ing. But Hof­mann said he looks for­ward to con­tin­u­ing to work on a solution that will best fit the needs of Queen Anne’s County.

Hof­mann has been in­stru­men­tal in pro­duc­ing a safety video on­line to as­sure par­ents of these ini­tia­tives, months be­fore the most re­cent epi­demic of school in­ci­dents. The most re­cent of those videos aired two months ago on QACTV and can be viewed by fol­low­ing this link: https:// youtu.be/CqYA0MbUm-0.

Hof­mann and Queen Anne’s State’s At­tor­ney Lance Richard­son and their staffs also have been pre­sent­ing pro­grams to the schools, both ed­u­ca­tors and stu­dents, for the past eight years on stranger dan­ger, crit­i­cal in­ci­dents to the staff and other age-ap­pro­pri­ate pro­grams to en­sure aware­ness and ed­u­ca­tion.

In the let­ter be­ing sent to county res­i­dents, the com­mis­sion­ers stated, “The com­mis­sion­ers un­der­stand that in ad­di­tion to pro­vid­ing ac­tual se­cu­rity, there will be a pos­i­tive ben­e­fit in pro­vid­ing vis­i­ble of­fi­cer pres­ence, both in terms of de­ter­rent value, and also giv­ing chil­dren and staff an in­creased sense of se­cu­rity. The com­mis­sion­ers fully sup­port and fa­cil­i­tate this vig­i­lance, and com­mend the sher­iff for these pre­cau­tions.”

Par­ents are urged to be con­sis­tent in mon­i­tor­ing their chil­dren’s ac­tiv­i­ties on so­cial me­dia and promptly re­port­ing any alarm­ing or con­cern­ing mes­sages or posts brought to their at­ten­tion, Hoff­man said.

SHER­IFF GARY HOF­MANN

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