MCPS and police describe role of community engagement officers during training session

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Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones speaks to reporters Monday during a training session for police officers and MCPS teachers at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda.

With just weeks to go until classes begin on August 29, Montgomery County Public Schools and the County Police Department are working to ensure schools and police understand their responsibilities under the new memorandum of understanding for the Community Engagement Officer (CEO) program.

MCPS CEOs and administrators gathered for a School Incident Response Training Summit Monday morning at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda.

Police also announced Monday that there will be a non-emergency phone number for MCPS staff members beginning August 1.

The county PDG program replaced the former School Resource Officer (SRO) program at the start of the 2021-22 school year. Under the SRO program, county police officers were stationed full-time at high schools. The program was scrapped after criticism that it was leading to more arrests among black and Hispanic students and calls from the community for a greater focus on mental health resources than on maintaining mental health. order in the schools. Proponents counter that the SRO program has led to stronger relationships between police officers and school communities.

In April, MCPS signed a memorandum of understanding with six county law enforcement agencies outlining CEO responsibilities during the 2022-23 academic year. The current agreement allows CEOs to be in a space close to a cluster’s high school front office. This is a change from the previous version of the CEO program in which officers patrolled schools in a group, but could not stay inside.

The new agreement stipulates that CEOs must complete 40 hours of training on topics such as conflict resolution, alcohol and drug awareness, threat assessment and child abuse, among others.

The agreement generally stipulates that the police will take the lead in incidents, including investigations into deaths, rapes, hate crimes and possession of weapons. It also grants police discretion in other cases such as arson, making or possessing a destructive device, and distributing a controlled hazardous substance.

County Police Chief Marcus Jones told reporters at Monday’s Walter Johnson event that he hoped the training would help officers and administrators better understand the types of crimes officers would investigate. those they could investigate.

“You have an incident that may occur that is classified as a robbery. Let’s say a child bullies another child by demanding his lunch money,” he said. “In a way, if they take that as strength, it’s technically theft. What we’re saying is that maybe the police department, by coming in and being involved and putting this through the criminal justice system, that there’s a lesson learned here.

Jones said under the new agreement, simple possession of marijuana will no longer lead to a mandatory arrest.

“If there’s someone selling illegal drugs in our school, like fentanyl or other types of dangerous drugs, that can lead to a felony arrest because that’s something we take a lot more seriously,” he said.

When a reporter asked how the department would handle a case in which a CEO overstepped his authority, Jones said it would depend on the severity of the offense and whether it was intentional.

“If it is a performance-based system [issue], these are corrective actions. If it is a disciplinary act, we would deal with it accordingly, because I see the discipline that needs to be established,” he said.

During a presentation on helping child victims of sexual assault, Capt. Amy Daum of the police department’s Special Victims Investigations Division said CEOs were instructed not to conduct interviews with possible victims, because recounting an incident can re-traumatize the child.

“We find that the more a child is asked to tell a story, the more it increases their trauma. It’s a revictimization of that individual, and we want to give those kids the best chance possible to thrive,” she said.

Daum said that in almost all cases of child sexual abuse, a social worker or therapist — someone trained in trauma-informed interviewing techniques — conducts the interview rather than a detective.

“Yes, we want to preserve the file to ensure that whatever is said is subsequently admissible in court. But it’s also about providing those adequate resources and services so that a child can move on. That’s why we’re asking you not to do these interviews,” she told officers during the training.

Debbie Feinstein, chief of the state’s attorney’s office’s special victims division, said during the presentation that in 22 years as a prosecutor, she’s seen interviewing child victims ultimately hurt those children in front of the courts. courts.

“I can’t begin to tell you how many times earlier in my career, before we had all these protocols, when there were initial interviews, whether it was in a school or by a patrol [officer], or someone else, the details were left out, and then this kid was attacked on the stand,” she said. “We don’t want that. We want the first principal interview to be comprehensive, informed about the trauma for this child, and frankly also, about our quest for justice to hold this offender accountable for what they have done.

Magruder cluster CEO prepares for the year

While the Col. Derwood’s Zadok Magruder is still dealing with the aftermath of a shooting that seriously injured a student in January, Magruder cluster CEO Jason Cupeta told Bethesda Beat that he continually checks on the school. staff during the summer courses. Cupeta said he was also a school officer under the SRO program.

“In the old days, I’ll be honest with you, we were able to communicate better with the students because we were there regularly to build relationships,” he said. “When we were taken out of schools, it was harder and harder to do that.”

Cupeta said he is optimistic that the second iteration of the CEO program will help rekindle relationships between officers, students and staff members.

“I think two things that stand out for me are that now officially the staff or the [administrator] can contact us directly by cell phone if they have any questions or concerns,” he said. “With the old memorandum of understanding, they weren’t able to do that. [And] we can now be in schools more regularly and have some work or desk space, so I think those are good changes.

Dan Schere can be contacted at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com


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