PRINCESS ANNE — The Somerset County Sheriff’s Office is ramping up its cadre of school resource officers (SROs) after the County Commissioners approved five additional positions.
Currently there are four SROs, two at Washington Academy and High School and one each at Crisfield Academy and High School and Somerset Intermediate School. The new SROs will be assigned to each of the four mainland elementary schools — Woodson, Princess Anne, Greenwood and Deal Island — with the fifth floating to respond to emergencies or to fill-in during time off or training.
Depending on the benefits package the five deputies will require, the cost is estimated to be between $282,000 and $470,000 with Somerset County Public Schools picking up half of the salary and benefits when the SROs are on duty in schools.
A memorandum of understanding with SCPS was signed to confirm the arrangement, said County Administrator Doug Taylor.
Sheriff Ronnie Howard said two future deputies are now in training and he is talking to a retired police officer who is interested in applying but he will be advertising to fill the remaining slots hopefully by the start of the coming school year. He said WAHS has two SROs because “it’s our busiest school.”
Chief Deputy Paul Keplinger said during the recent shooting across from the State Police Barrack the school SROs at WAHS were notified and “locked down that school immediately.” He said they retrieved their long guns from their vehicle, “and took their positions outside” until the situation was cleared.
The discussion on ramping up the number of SROs became more urgent in the last several weeks especially with an increase of violence within school systems across the country. The Sheriff’s Office in a statement said, “The safety of our children and schools is paramount, and we believe that having full-time SROs in schools is one of many steps we can take to accomplish this goal.”
In addition to Somerset County and SCPS the Maryland Center for School Safety is partnering on the expansion of SROs by being the training resource for deputies and school administrators who will receive refresher school safety and crisis response training this summer.
“The most recent tragedy in Uvalde, Texas, reminds us that school violence isn’t just a middle or high school problem,” said Superintendent Dr. John Gaddis.
“It was important to our Board of Education, County Commissioners and our school community to add school resource officers to protect our elementary school students and staff — particularly in Deal Island where it could take 20 minutes or more for law enforcement to respond due to its remote location in the county.”
Under the announced plan there will be no full-time SROs at Somerset County Technical High School or Ewell Elementary, which Sheriff Howard said may have an enrollment as low as two students this fall on an island that has no police or deputies on duty.
In a separate vote the County Commissioners approved leasing five vehicles through Enterprise, most likely Chevy Equinoxes especially since Dodge Chargers and Durangos are not in stock plus SROs would not require a vehicle of that caliber.
Commissioner Rex Simpkins was absent from the July 12 meeting when the votes on the additional SROs and vehicle leases were taken.