Montgomery Co. police chief discusses community engagement officer proposal

Ever since Montgomery County Public School leaders unveiled their proposal last week to update the MCPS school officer program, one main question remains: How is this different from the previous School Resource Officer program that got pulled?

Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones shook his head "yes" on Thursday, telling FOX 5 it is fair to say the newly proposed Community Engagement Officer program is really a "tweak" to the old SRO one.  

"In a four-month period, we responded over-nearly 1,700 times to address school related issues. So to say that we weren’t necessary at our schools. I think those numbers speak differently. And so therefore, I think everybody needed to kind of take another look at it," Chief Jones told FOX 5 in a one-on-one Zoom interview. 

The difference in MCPS’ latest Community Engagement Officer program proposal, according to Chief Jones, is that under the old SRO program, an SRO’s assigned high school was that officer’s priority and base. They spent most of the day responding to that high school and mostly returned to it, even if they visited another school in their umbrella of coverage.

MCPS’ latest proposal, Jones explained, does not assign CEOs their high schools of coverage, allowing the CEO greater flexibility to move around their assigned school cluster. However, the Chief noted there is a goal to still be more visible at the high schools, especially during high-traffic times like the lunch hour, in an effort to deter school violence.

Chief Jones told FOX 5 the discussions between school leaders and police on proposed changes to the CEO program are a positive step forward.

The CEO model agreed upon in August did not have CEOs participating in student discipline and school emergencies the same way SROs did.

Conversations on reviewing the MCPS School Resource Officer Program began in the summer of 2020. The county council noted this timeline of events in a joint committee meeting with MCPS and MCP on school officers last week.

County Executive Marc Elrich essentially ended the SRO program by pulling funding for it in the FY22 budget in March 2015.

"First and foremost what I think people had to realize was there was still going to be a requirement by Maryland state law that you provide adequate law enforcement coverage for schools," Chief Jones said. "So though you remove the officers from the facility, which is what a lot of people wanted – they wanted them totally out of the schools, they didn’t even want them to be able to go and check in with the administrations to you know to see what where their needs are to be physical at all -- I think at the end of the day we had to come up with a plan that suggested we needed some visibility in order to prevent anything from happening and also to still have the ability to work in partnership with the schools and to have our officers engage in a positive manner."

Elrich tasked the schools with developing a new program. MCPS and Police developed the Community Engagement Program by August 2021, which essentially now had CEOs, many of them former SROs, patrolling outside of the county’s high schools and lower grade schools within the high-school cluster. CEOs were only allowed inside a school building if 9-1-1 was called for an emergency.

After the unprecedented shooting inside Magruder High School last month, school leaders announced a proposal to allow officers back inside the school buildings. The plan would give CEOs office space within the county’s high schools to meet with students.

There are discussions on how to track positive CEO engagements. Another proposal would require CEOs not work in a traditional police officer uniforms.

Montgomery County FOP Lodge 35 President Lee Holland told FOX 5 the Police Union was always in favor of changing the uniform like khakis and polo’s like Anne Arundel County’s SROs did. Holland said the officers going plain-clothed could be more dangerous in several ways. The students should be able to clearly identify who the school officer is.

MCPS is also proposing the school system get more of a say in which officers are selected to be CEOs.

February 24th is when the Montgomery County Board of Education is expected to take up the MCPS Superintendent’s latest CEO proposals.