HEROIN HIGHWAY TO HELL Harford County Sheriff’s Office
From Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler: It’s only March, yet we’ve already reached 100 suspected heroin-related overdoses.
Of those 100, 23 individuals lost their lives.
This epidemic hasn’t eased its grip on our community, but we are doing everything we can to find and lock up those dealing death in our community and spread the word on how dangerous heroin is and what parents can do to help keep their children away from addiction.
Harford Sheriff Jeff Gahler testified in Annapolis on March 23, 2018, in favor of the bill mandating School Resource Officers
Sheriff Gahler was honored to testify on important legislation mandating School Resource Officers in our public schools, a bill introduced by Senator J.B. Jennings. The Sheriff’s testimony was heard by the Judiciary Committee with Senator Linda Norman participating.
His testimony is below:
Support with Amendments
Jeffrey R. Gahler, Sheriff
Senate Bill 1264
Primary and Secondary Schools – Law Enforcement Presence
Letter of Support to the Senate Judiciary Committee
March 23rd 2018
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I am pleased to send this letter today to you in support of Senate Bill 1264. In short, Senate Bill 1264 would require an armed School Resource Officer (SRO) in every public school, for the officer to be on the property during regular school hours, to be present conducting screening at the school entrance and patrol the grounds, and should a local jurisdiction be unable to meet these requirement, that the Department of State Police must assign an officer to the school.
We all believe our schools should be safe places for our children and environments where learning is the primary concern. Many of us have children in the public school system and monitor current events closely. Although there is much in this bill that is valuable, there are aspects that I believe are inconsistent with practical application and I recommend amendments to support current best practices.
I am pleased to say the Harford County Sheriff’s Office and Harford County Public Schools have a long history of collaboration on safety and security which began in earnest almost 20 years ago with the development of our Office’s SRO Program. Currently, the Harford County Sheriff’s Office employs nine full-time sworn deputies as SROs. Harford County Sheriff’s Office SROs are assigned to seven public high schools and two public middle schools which are located outside of the municipal areas of our County. The local governments provide SRO coverage to the schools within their jurisdictions. In light of the horrific incidents we have seen across this Country and in our own state, we are working with our County Executive on efforts to expand the SRO Program to additional schools in our community.
As a 32-year law enforcement executive, I am advocate for an armed SRO in our high schools and middle schools. In an ideal world, adding an SRO to elementary schools would be good, but private security could be just as effective here. An aspect of the SROs in middle schools and high schools has to do with the interaction between maturing young adults and these officers. These relationships and knowledge of the students themselves can often times allow for intervention through the SRO before escalation occurs. The concept for these officers to be unarmed is simply unconscionable in my opinion. An armed police officer is not only a strong known and visible deterrent, they are also the first level of defense and response should the worst case scenario occur as we just witnessed right here in St. Mary’s County.
As Sheriff, one of my Office’s Constitutional responsibilities is the security of our Circuit Court. As such, we staff multiple deputies at a controlled access point and require full screening of all visitors. This is not a role for SROs as it does not allow for those relationships described above and being fixed to one location (a security checkpoint) does not allow the school to be proactively patrolled by the SRO. There is a distinct difference between security and a true School Resource Officer program.
In Harford County, there are 31 elementary schools without an assigned SRO. This number is inclusive of the towns of Bel Air and Aberdeen. In order to add police officers to all of these schools in Harford County alone would come at an additional cost of approximately $5.7 million for FY2019. Although perhaps a reasonable long-term goal, from practical and fiscal perspectives, the addition of this many officers would be a challenge to fund, hire and staff for State and local government.
To summarize, I would suggest amendments to the language, inclusive of the assignment of an SRO to all public high schools and middle schools, modification of the language pertaining to staffing a fixed location by SROs, and removal of the State Police from the bill. School safety is a local policing issue.
As Sheriff of Harford County, I ask the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to report Senate Bill 1264 favorable with noted amendments.