On Dec. 14, 2012, Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and killed 26 people, including 20 children. It was later discovered the original target of the shooter was likely Newtown High School, but that day, a police officer was parked outside. After seeing the police officer at the high school, Lanza drove to the elementary school, which was left unprotected. Evil and demented individuals look for unprotected locations, often referred to as “soft targets” to carry out their heinous crimes.
I told this story on the Senate floor in 2018 when the Maryland Senate took up the Safe to Learn Act. The bill was proposed after a number of school shootings across the country and at Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County, where a student was tragically killed. The legislation provides funding to enhance security at our schools, creates the Maryland School Safety Sub-cabinet; and invests in preventive measures like greater mental health counseling.
When we took up this legislation, I wanted to make sure all our schools had physical security to protect children. That is why I passed an amendment to the Safe to Learn Act, which required adequate police coverage for all of our schools. This means that there is either a police officer stationed at every school or police are able to respond quickly in case of an emergency. The state correctly made the decision to require local governments to invest in police protection for our children.
In Frederick County, we do not have a separate School Resource Officer (SRO) force. The Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, the Brunswick Police Department and the Frederick city police provide the coverage for our schools. Each school area has an officer that is designated as the SRO.
Unfortunately, the defund the police movement is now seeking to remove SROs from our schools. On Sept. 2, The Frederick News-Post published an article about a virtual town hall hosted by End Racism Now FCPS, where they called for the removal of SROs from all Frederick County public schools.
Given the violence we have seen in our schools in recent years, it is critical that an SRO be present. When parents drop their kids off at school, they should know they will be safe. Just a few years ago, a student was sentenced for plotting a mass murder at Catoctin High School, which included a gun and explosives. There have been shootings at a high school in Perry Hall and Randallstown. There have been shootings outside of Baltimore City schools. After a teacher was shot at Frederick Douglass High School, the Baltimore City School Board voted to reverse their prior decision and allow armed SROs in schools.
At Great Mills High School, the SRO immediately engaged the shooter and prevented further deaths and injuries. If an armed SRO had not been in that school, it would have taken critical minutes for the police to be dispatched and more children would have likely been shot and killed.
The Frederick County SRO program is widely regarded as one of the best in the state and the Safe to Learn Act helped to enhance these protections for our students. The enhanced security requirements and mental health counseling we provided for in the Safe to Learn Act were preventative measures. However, in the event of a crisis, the best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Frederick County must reject this organized effort to remove police officers who are protecting our children and keeping them safe.
Michael Hough is a state senator representing parts of Frederick and Carroll counties.