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North principal testifies in support of school arrest bill

March 11, 2002|BY LAURA ERNDE

A student punched a North Hagerstown High School administrator in front of a cafeteria full of students last year, but police were powerless to do anything about it.

In cases like that, when students disturb school activities or threaten other students or teachers, police can't make an arrest, North High Principal David Reeder told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Wednesday.

Reeder and Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith waited all afternoon to testify on a bill that would give police broader powers to make warrantless arrests in schools. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Don Munson, R-Washington.

It's unlikely the Maryland General Assembly will pass the legislation this session.

The House Judiciary Committee last Monday killed an identical bill sponsored by Del. John Donoghue, D-Washington.

Seeing that, the Senate likely will do the same because a bill has to pass both chambers to become law, Munson said.

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Munson and Donoghue introduced the bills at Smith's request.

Until last year, police routinely made arrests in the rare cases when they were called into schools for such disturbances, Smith said.

But Washington County State's Attorney Ken Long did some research on the law and told them they had to stop.

"The absurdity of this is you can't make a warrantless arrest but you can't get a warrant, either," Smith said.

Police can make a complaint to the juvenile justice system, but charges are rarely brought, he said.

Smith said he wants police to have the same power in schools as they do in homes where there's suspected domestic violence.

Police do have the power to make warrantless arrests in schools if a felony is involved or if they witness an alleged offense.

There are also a dozen other crimes for which police can make warrantless arrests, including handgun offenses, drug offenses, indecent exposure, prostitution, theft, manslaughter and malicious burning.

Del. Charles Barkley, D-Montgomery, said he's been trying to pass a similar warrantless arrest bill for three years.

Even when he served on the Judiciary Committee, he wasn't able to convince his colleagues to approve the legislation.

"They're just concerned about giving police too much power in the schools, which I don't understand," he said.

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