Model Programs/Best Practices

Carroll County Involves Officers in School Patrols…and in Classrooms

Maryland By Becky Lewis Published Sept. 2013

The deputy leads the jury back to their seats. The judge calls on the foreman to stand and read the verdict: Not guilty. The judge then asks the jury members to tell why they voted not guilty, and whether they thought the defendant was not guilty when they left to begin deliberations.

Say what? A judge questioning jurors about how they arrived at their verdict, asking them to tell what influenced them in an open courtroom?

No, not a courtroom. A classroom. A classroom at Winters Mill High School in Maryland’s Carroll County, where students just participated in a mock trial of a classmate charged with possession of marijuana. A mock trial orchestrated and led by two Carroll County sheriff’s master deputies, co-teaching this Health I class as part of the county’s new "Adopt a School Program."

Launched with the start of the school year in August 2013, the classroom component adds another dimension to the Adopt A School program, which started with a patrol presence in the county’s 44 schools following the events of December 2012 in Newtown, Conn. Officers from the county’s five municipal police departments and the Maryland State Police joined sheriff’s deputies in doing patrol checks and unscheduled daily visits to every school, getting to know the 26,000 students and 3,500 employees while offering an increased level of security.

Larry Faries, the school system’s coordinator of security, explains that despite its nearness to the Washington-Baltimore metropolitan area, Carroll County remains relatively rural, with just more than 100 patrol officers (out of 214 sworn officers).

"We didn’t have the funds to hire school resource officers, and we think we came up with something unique that gives us a lot of ‘bang for our buck,’ " Faries says. "Every patrol officer is involved in security instead of just a few. They stop in and eat their lunches, they take in their laptops and file reports, they walk through the school and get to know everyone there."

Faries worked out the idea for the patrol checks with Carroll County Sheriff Ken Tregoning, basing it on a similar program for banks they had developed in the 1980s when they were Carroll County’s assistant barracks commander and barracks commander for the Maryland State Police. Patrols continued throughout the remainder of the 2012-2013 school year, and resumed with Day One of the 2013-2014 session. Because of rotating work groups and shifts, several officers share responsibility for each school, Faries explains, adding, "We’re all in this together and we’re doing it in a cost-effective way."

(Hear from Faries in this video sound bite at: http://youtu.be/cC5oCPLP12g)

While the patrol component started almost immediately after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, working out the teaching component took some brainstorming and planning over the course of several months. Dawn Rathgeber, assistant supervisor of Curriculum and Instructional Resources, and Chief Deputy Phil Kasten led the team that developed the teaching component.

"We agreed that DARE had been a good thing for the county, and we didn’t want to lose that instructional component, but we wanted to build on the DARE experience. We came up with this idea to include foot patrols and being visible around the campus, yet still getting to know the kids and develop relationships with them in the classrooms," Rathgeber says. "I’m so pleased the classroom interaction will continue. Police officers are people too and we didn’t want to lose the foundation we already laid."

Whereas DARE presents a structured 10-day, in-and-out of the classroom component, the Adopt a School curriculum features officers co-teaching several different units with a certified health teacher, including the dynamics of an emergency, bike safety, "stranger danger," the legal consequences of underage alcohol use and drug use, strategies for dealing with peer pressure, cyber-bullying and online safety. Collaborative instruction takes place throughout the school system, as students in the second, fifth, seventh and eighth grades participate along with students enrolled in secondary school Health I. Carroll County has trained 20 officers from the various law enforcement agencies, with those from municipal agencies teaching in their towns, and sheriff’s deputies and state troopers teaching at the other schools.

"We did an interview process and selected people based on their ability to give a presentation as well as their written and oral communication skills. They went through a one-day training before the school year, working with instructional staff from the schools," says Kasten. "It’s not a lone teaching assignment, it’s a team experience with the teachers that goes on intermittently through the school year. We think that adding the officer to the teaching team gives them the chance to enhance the lessons based on their experience."

Two of the officers selected, Master Deputy Worthington Washington and Master Deputy Jeremy Holland, worked with health teacher Salvatore Picataggi to create the mock trial that drew avid participation from Winters Mill students. Washington, a veteran of the DARE program, calls Adopt a School a good partnership that gets students used to seeing officers in class and "lets them get to know us as people and not just officers. By interacting with them, they can feel comfortable coming to us if they need our help as officers. The teachers like us coming in too."

(Hear from Washington in this video sound bite at: http://youtu.be/VXrfOkuL8UY)

I love teaching. I love being with the kids and giving them guidance that will help them make good choices. Everybody has options and we’re teaching them about the consequences if they make a poor choice," he adds.

And Holland, who became interested in working in a school system due to a positive relationship as a student with the SRO at Franklin High in suburban Baltimore (Reistertown), says he has very positive feelings about what’s going on in Carroll County: "I feel very optimistic about the program. I hope that each of these kids, from my being here, will make the right choices when they’re faced with them."

Holland had a personal goal to become part of the DARE team after he graduated from police academy, and when Carroll County started the new Adopt A School program, he immediately applied to be part of the classroom team: "I think our being here instills a good sense of safety. Passersby see a patrol car and know it’s here for a positive reason, not a negative one. I hope knowing that we’re here gives parents peace of mind."

Tregoning shares Holland’s optimism, and in addition, calls the Adopt a School program a very innovative one: "We’re applying more resources into the schools and we’re improving physical security inside and outside the schools. We’re using more deputies and police officers to make sure our schools are secure. There’s a visibility and a presence, and they also interact with the students on a personal basis. It brings law enforcement, school administrators and students closer together."

Carroll County Superintendent of Schools Stephen H. Guthrie echoes his sentiments about providing visibility along with the educational components, "and the administrators know a familiar face, and they know they have a person to call who knows the history of the school and knows the students. I also don’t want another school district that might want to do the same thing to think this all came together out of the blue. It was fostered in more than a decade of good relationships between Larry [Faries] and local law enforcement, that’s why it came together so easily and quickly. To replicate it would require a lot of groundwork."

(Hear from Guthrie and Katen in this video sound bite at: http://youtu.be/YJCpfk7U4gs)

For a number of years, the sheriff’s office, along with the Maryland State Police and the Westminster Police, had a partnership that we had termed the Youth Intervention Officer Program here in Carroll County with public schools. It’s been a strong program. We’ve worked from the DARE curriculum but we found ourselves increasingly working away from DARE, adding additional programs and trying to cover emerging issues as they came up in the community. And we were, probably about three-four years ago, looking at a way to implement a new program, we’d sought some grant funding, did not get that grant funding, and continued to search for ways to get a different presence, a more diverse presence, within the schools and also find a way that we could add a security component, but more importantly, develop a program that we could not only use within the schools but carry a consistent message within the community so that the parents were hearing the same things that our kids were hearing," says Kasten.

Guthrie explains that Carroll County hired Faries in 1998 because the county had no organized security program for its schools, many of which had inadequate (or no) security plans: "We were beginning to see some things happening around the country that concerned us. There were more and more disciplinary issues at schools. We hired Larry first as a consultant and then as full-time staff, with an intent to grow the program … but he’s still the only full-time security staff we have."

To supplement the lack of staff, Faries meets with Carroll County’s law enforcement agencies monthly, and that strong working relationship helped lead to the rapid development of the Adopt a School program.

"This program was fostered over more than a decade of good relationships, and that’s why it came together so easily and quickly. It stands on the shoulders of what happened before," Guthrie says.

A Look at the Evidence

Some students in "Mr. P’s" Health I class had specific assignments on a sunny September Tuesday: prosecuting attorney, defense attorney, jury foreman, witness, defendant. Others played members of the jury, or spectators in the courtroom. Whatever their role, all students shared a couple of similar traits that day: They paid attention. They took the role play seriously. They engaged themselves in the mock trial, and in the discussion about drug and alcohol abuse that followed.

Master Deputies Washington Worthington and Jeremy Holland orchestrated the trial, with teacher Salvatore Picataggi taking the role of judge. Ultimately, both "spectators" and "jury" spotted the same key flaw in the evidence: the surveillance video of the school locker where an officer found marijuana showed a teen with a hood over his face, making it impossible to identify the individual as the defendant. This led into a thoughtful discussion about the student’s ongoing responsibility for the contents of his locker, even if he let someone else use it, and how the same principle applies to the content of a car and to online postings.

"By integrating the legal aspects of drug and alcohol abuse into the health curriculum, the students get two different perspectives on the serious consequences. You learn from everyone that participates in your classroom. That’s one of the great things about teaching," says Picataggi. "The students are excited any time we have guests in the classroom, but in this case, they also realize that when they leave class, they will still know Master Deputy Holland and they have a positive relationship with him. I believe a program like this would benefit any school district that uses it."

(Hear from a student in this video sound bite at: http://youtu.be/OX81V9Ydeck)