Push­ing for armed school of­fi­cers

Bill spon­sored by sub­ur­ban GOP se­na­tor wants po­lice in city schools to have guns

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Luke Broad­wa­ter

Days af­ter a staff mem­ber was shot in­side a Bal­ti­more pub­lic high school, Mary­land Se­nate Repub­li­cans in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion that would re­quire city school po­lice of­fi­cers to carry their guns in­side school build­ings.

The leg­is­la­tion — spon­sored by Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader J.B. Jen­nings, who rep­re­sents Har­ford and Bal­ti­more coun­ties — would also ap­ply to school re­source of­fi­cers across the state. It quickly picked up 10 co-spon­sors, also Repub­li­cans.

Bal­ti­more school po­lice of­fi­cers are cur­rently al­lowed to carry their ser­vice weapons while pa­trolling out­side build­ings be­fore and af­ter school hours. But they are re­quired to store their weapons in a se­cure lo­ca­tion dur­ing the school day.

While the city school board re­cently re­jected the idea of arm­ing its po­lice force in­side schools, the district’s of­fi­cers have long sup­ported car­ry­ing guns all day. The re­cent high school shoot­ing has led school board mem­bers to re­open the mat­ter.

Jen­nings, how­ever, said his bill is not a re­ac­tion to the shoot­ing of a staff mem­ber at Fred­er­ick Dou­glass High School. He said his bill was al­ready be­ing drafted be­fore the in­ci­dent.

“I just be­lieve po­lice of­fi­cers in schools should carry a gun,” Jen­nings said. “Some ju­ris­dic­tions don’t al­low it. If you’re a po­lice of­fi­cer, you should have your ser­vice weapon on you.”

On Feb. 8, a 25-year-old Bal­ti­more man en­tered the lobby at Fred­er­ick Dou­glass and al­legedly shot 56-year-old spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion as­sis­tant Michael Marks twice in the torso. The sus­pect, Neil Davis, had come to the school to con­front Marks about dis­ci­plin­ing a fam­ily mem­ber who is a stu­dent at the school, ac­cord­ing to charg­ing doc­u­ments. Davis has been charged with at­tempted first-de­gree mur­der and firearm vi­o­la­tions.

Jen­nings’ leg­is­la­tion, in­tro­duced Wed­nes­day, comes as the Bal­ti­more school board is re­con­sid­er­ing the is­sue.

In Jan­uary, the board unan­i­mously voted to op­pose a dif­fer­ent state bill that would have en­abled Bal­ti­more school po­lice to carry their firearms in­side school build­ings, ef­fec­tively de­rail­ing the ef­fort.

Del. Ch­eryl D. Glenn, a Bal­ti­more Demo­crat who had spon­sored that leg­is­la­tion, with­drew the bill, say­ing she couldn’t move for­ward with­out lo­cal sup­port.

But af­ter the shoot­ing at Dou­glass, city school board mem­bers have said they would re­con­sider the po­si­tion.

Bal­ti­more is the only ju­ris­dic­tion in Mary­land with a sworn school po­lice force. In sur­round­ing coun­ties, lo­cal po­lice or sher­iff ’s de­part­ments pa­trol schools and are al­lowed to carry their weapons in­side school build­ings.

Bal­ti­more’s school po­lice union has long pushed for a leg­isla­tive change, ar­gu­ing they need to be pre­pared to stop a mass shoot­ing in­side schools. But op­po­nents — in­clud­ing stu­dents who protested against the leg­is­la­tion at the re­cent school board meet­ing — ar­gue that the pres­ence of armed po­lice of­fi­cers could put black chil­dren at risk.

One Dou­glass teacher, who was livetweet­ing while his class­room was on lock­down, later tweeted that the shoot­ing has not changed his stance on the is­sue.

“I still do not want guns in schools,” Jesse Sch­nei­der­man posted. “To change the de­ci­sion right now would be a knee-jerk re­ac­tion and an ad­mis­sion that lis­ten­ing to par­ents and kids is just lip-ser­vice.”

Jen­nings said he would push for­ward with the Se­nate leg­is­la­tion re­gard­less of whether the school board again votes against the idea.

“We think dif­fer­ently,” he said. “I’m about pro­tect­ing the chil­dren, mak­ing sure that you have law en­force­ment in the school who could pro­tect the chil­dren should there be an in­ci­dent.”

Jen­nings’ leg­is­la­tion cur­rently has no Demo­cratic co-spon­sors. In Mary­land’s Demo­cratic-con­trolled Gen­eral Assem­bly, Repub­li­cans can­not pass leg­is­la­tion with­out at least some bi­par­ti­san sup­port.

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