Montgomery County police chief talks school lockdowns, community engagement officers, and more

During Wednesday's County Executive media briefing, Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones clarified it is not accurate to say someone allowed the 17-year-old Magruder High School shooting suspect into the classroom after the lockdown. 

While several county leaders say this is the first time they recall a student actually being shot inside a Montgomery County Public School building, many parents are still raising concerns. 

Steven Alston Jr: What we know about the alleged Magruder High School shooter

Some are even discussing possible legal action regarding how the lockdown procedure was handled by the teacher whose classroom police found the 17-year-old shooting suspect Steven Alston Jr. 

Jones previously said that Jones Jr., was not in the classroom he was supposed to be in last Friday. Instead, he was found about two hours into the lockdown in another room with parts of a disassembled ghost gun allegedly located on his person and nearby in that very same classroom.

"Prior to the door even being locked … teachers have a responsibility to look outside their classroom, do what I think they call a ‘quick scan’ of the hallways to make sure there are no students in the hallway at the time of the lockdown. So, no matter which student is out in the hallway at that present time, whether they belong in that classroom or not, that – that teacher is to get that student inside the classroom and then secure the door," said Chief Jones.

The chief also noted that neither the teacher nor the police knew who the suspect was at the time. 

The county’s police leader said MCPS and his department are continuing to evaluate the Community Engagement Officer Program in response. Montgomery County Public Schools has the final say.

On Monday, MCPS Interim Superintendent announced an officer would be working inside every county high school building this week. Those officers are expected to be visible inside the schools this week, particularly during "high traffic" areas like lunch and dismissal, said Chief Jones during the virtual briefing.

Should school resource officers return to curb violence in Montgomery Co. public schools?

"The School Resource Officer was assigned to be directly assigned to a particular high school and to work with that particular school and be in that school pretty much the majority of the day but also have responsibilities for any school within its cluster that they personally may have to – the officer will respond to address any public safety need if available to do so," explained the Chief, "The CEO, the program that we developed now, it’s called the Community Engagement Officer program, where basically it’s set up through the school cluster so the school clusters – each high school as feeder schools, they go into their particular high school. So you have middle schools that feed into the high school of that particular community as well as elementary school. That school – that Community Engagement Officer is responsible for the entire cluster."

Officials confirmed there were around 25 officers built into the original SRO program. There is also a sheriff, Rockville City Police Officer & a Gaithersburg City officer participating as a partner in the current CEO program.

County Executive Marc Elrich ultimately removed the SRO program from MCPS this school year. 

When asked Wednesday who the buck stops with as it comes to school security issues, Elrich said, "… some of these problems have bedeviled us for a while with or without SROs, so they don’t offer a magic security blanket for everything."

"And this is something where both the school system and the police department have to come together and make a decision, and I’ll support whatever decisions they feel they need to make," the County Executive added.

Chief Jones also said Wednesday police are taking bullying concerns seriously as part of the Germantown investigation into the homicide of 17-year-old Northwest High School senior, Jailyn Jones.

The chief said police are looking into interviewing students and teachers to determine whether bullying was in fact a factor. The victims’ mother, Alexis McDaniel, told FOX 5 on Tuesday, "We have to live in this community together, and we need to learn to get along in this community together. We need to learn to grow and thrive in this community together."

McDaniel blamed the MCPS School Board for her son’s death, saying she wanted him to stay in a program where he would be safe.

MCPS would not say whether the student had any special mental health needs.  He was previously reported as missing. Police found the 17-year-old’s body at around 3 p.m. Monday, in a wooded area near the 18900 block of Grotto Lane in Germantown, Maryland. Northwest High School’s principal announced the death of the 12th grader in a letter sent to students, describing Jones as having, "had a large personality, infectious smile, and overall amazing spirit."

MCPS Spokesperson Chris Cram told FOX 5 in a statement: 

MCPS takes all reports of bullying very seriously as students must feel safe and secure in order to fully engage in their learning. Any student who feels they are experiencing bullying is encouraged to speak with a teacher or administrator so that appropriate action can be taken. There is much more information and applicable reporting forms on this website.

As you know any details specific to an individual student case is covered by student privacy laws, and we would not be able to comment.

FOX 5 also followed-up with MCPS on how many of the newer 50 mental health positions have been filled so far this school year. The added positions were created to help supplement schools with the removal of SROs:

"Two of the 50 authorized have been hired," Cram said. "They are experiencing stiff competition from local schools and from school systems across the country, in fact, many industries are hiring for these types of individuals."