A full-time police officer will be assigned to every high school in Prince George's County under a federal program that is providing $2.4 million to the county to help fund the salaries.
County officials are scheduled to announce the initiative at a news conference tomorrow. The program is likely to start before the end of the school year.
School Board Chairman Alvin Thornton (Suitland) said the initiative is part of an effort to make schools safer and to curb disruptions. The school system has added security guards and peer mediation programs in recent years and will launch an in-school suspension program at all middle schools and high schools.
"We are not immune to the national concerns that we need to enhance security in the high schools," Thornton said. "My only concern is that this has to be made completely integrated with the academic program and not disruptive but protective."
The money for the 20 officers comes from a grant administered through the U.S. Department of Justice. President Clinton created the COPS in Schools program in October 1998 to help local law enforcement agencies hire community policing officers to work in schools.
The COPS initiative has provided $155 million for 1,351 officers in 649 communities around the country. The grant to Prince George's provides up to $125,000 in salary and benefits for each officer over a three-year period. The county and state will pay any additional costs.
"It's a good idea," said council member Isaac J. Gourdine (D-Fort Washington). "It gives students a sense of safety, and they need it."
The list of Washington area schools assigning full-time police officers is growing. All high schools and middle schools in Loudoun County and Alexandria have full-time officers for the first time this year. The District and Prince William and Fairfax counties have officers in their schools. Montgomery County has a police liaison assigned to each high school but no full-time officers.
Minerva Sanders, president of the Prince George's County Parent-Teacher Association, said she applauds any measures that make the schools safer. But she added that parents "need to be assured [the officers] have training in dealing with young people and parents. It is a different mind-set than dealing with those out in the community. We expect the role to be more than Mr. Police Officer. They should be there to assist the school in providing guidance and support for young people."
County Council Chairman M.H. Jim Estepp (D-Croom) said the officers should help quiet fears of school violence.
"People want to be able to send their kids to school and know they are going to be safe," he said.