School police active in county

Bullying, theft, assault, gang activity draw officers' attention

July 08, 2007|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,sun reporter

The Howard County Police Officer of the Month award, which highlights the achievements of the nearly 400 employees on the force, offers insight into criminal activity by students in the county's highly rated school system.

Since the start of the 2006-2007 school year, two school resource officers have been chosen for the distinction in The Beat, a publication of the Howard County Police Department Office of Public Affairs.

Summaries of the officers' accomplishments detail gang activity and theft at Hammond and Reservoir high schools.

Pfc. Jake Bell, the March award winner, was chosen for the award after making 13 arrests at Hammond High that month.

Bell's arrests included four students for an alleged assault that was taped and later shown on MySpace.com; a student for destruction of property, which was connected to gang-related graffiti; and a female student who was charged with the theft of cash, gift cards and a cellular phone from the girls' locker room.

Bell's award was announced in the June edition of The Beat. That same month, Bell arrested a 15-year-old freshman who was charged with carrying a semiautomatic handgun in his waistband at Hammond High.

The teenager was arrested after two students reported to a teacher that they overheard him talking about having a gun in school. The teacher relayed the students' suspicions to Bell, who removed the student from class and, during a search, found an unloaded gun in his waistband and an ammunition clip with nine or 10 rounds in his pants pocket.

The student later told police that he brought the handgun and ammunition to class to protect himself from gang members at school, according to statements made during the youth's arraignment.

The write-up that accompanied Pfc. Jason Ellis' award as November officer of the month described gang activity at Reservoir High.

Ellis made three arrests in November in a strong-arm robbery that occurred in school hallways in late October.

The officer learned of the robbery after a parent informed him that she was not allowing her son to attend the school because she feared for his life.

During his investigation, Ellis discovered that the three students -- who were eventually arrested -- were attempting to form a gang.

Sherry Llewellyn, a Police Department spokeswoman, said that the descriptions of arrests in the nominating letters should not cause alarm and do not indicate a growing crime problem in Howard County schools.

"In order to be recognized, your work volume and type of arrests have to stand out," Llewellyn said. "You are going to have fights between students, and those fights will result in assault charges. There was nothing that you said that was completely unheard of in a high school. In Howard County, these incidents happen much less frequently than in other school systems.

"We would love to have a school system free of fighting, bullying, theft and other crime that impact students' quality of life, but that may not be realistic anywhere," Llewellyn said.

Howard County's 12 high schools each average five arrests a month, according to Patti Caplan, spokeswoman for the school system.

Each high school has one resource officer assigned to it. Caplan said the incidents described at Hammond and Reservoir are typical of the types of arrests made in county high schools.

"Some of the stuff takes place off school campus," Caplan said. "But [school resource officers] learn about it through their work on campus. That was one of the intentions we had when we set up the program years ago. It really helps to head off things that could spill over into school."

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

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