Baltimore City school police officers - concerned that student security is at risk because of a reduction in the department's size - are in the midst of taking a no-confidence vote for their chief, Jansen Robinson. The vote, taken over two meetings last month and still continuing, should be tallied by the end of this month, officials said.
City Union of Baltimore officials say the officers' chief complaint is that Robinson wants to fill about 45 vacancies in the department with nonunion security guards.
The ranks of school police have dipped from more than 100 officers four years ago to 65 this year, union attorney Ward Morrow said.
Robinson, who has been the city school police chief for a year, declined to comment. He has said before that he wants to hire retired police officers and other "seasoned individuals" to make up for the manpower deficit.
Robinson has also said that he is planning a major restructuring of the department that would change the way security is provided for the city's 175 schools and 95,000 students.
School system spokeswoman Vanessa C. Pyatt said she could not comment on the no-confidence vote because it was a personnel matter.
However, she said that the city school system had seen a 13 percent drop in violent incidents from September last year to September this year.
Still, some school police officers are concerned about Robinson's new hiring proposal, called Safe Havens. Under the plan, the 45 nonunion security guards would be hired to patrol the schools at night.
The union contends those guards would be lower paid than current police would.
Officers "are leaving in large numbers, and they're not being replaced and people were saying well, `What's going on here?'" Morrow said.
The school district's regular officers are upset about Robinson's plan to hire security guards because it would put students, school staff and the officers at risk, Morrow said.
He contends that the contract security guards might not have the same training as police officers currently in the department. The security guards would not be permitted to carry guns.
"Current staffing levels for school police are dangerously low at a time when public safety concerns are at an all-time high," union President James Carroll wrote in a letter to members last month.
"We have heard community leaders and parents express their concern with the watering down of public safety."
The union circulated a petition that opposed any plan to fill vacancies on the force with contract security guards and gathered more than 1,000 signatures, Carroll said.
"We all want our schools safe," Carroll said at a recent public hearing concerning school police. "Why would we not seek the most trained and qualified personnel available?"
Some officers are worried that they would be unable to protect themselves or students if a major incident happened, such as a school shooting.
"We are trained police officers. We are capable," Officer Tommy Keel, a six-year veteran of the school police department, said at the hearing. "But the way it looks now, our numbers are so low, who's going to get to me in enough time to be able to back me up if something were to really happen?"
At the hearing, Carroll and officers spoke out against Safe Havens, saying the proposal could dilute security.
Some have also raised concerns about another category of security personnel, called school resource officers, who patrol the schools during the day but do not receive the same formal training as school police officers.
"We need more guys like us," Keel said. "We're really spread thin. We're providing a safe learning environment for the students and a safe teaching environment for the teachers. But how can we provide a safe environment if we can't be sure we ourselves are safe?"