South is his beat

Grant keeps cop on duty at school

Grant keeps cop on duty at school

March 14, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

South Hagerstown High School is getting used to having an in-house police officer all day long.

The Hagerstown Police Department received a three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to support Officer Steve Cromer and a second officer, who will work full time at North Hagerstown High beginning in the fall, said Capt. Charles Summers.

Students don't seem to mind him too much.

"He's OK with me, here," Shamika Slater, 16, said. The South High junior said the police officer makes her feel safer at school, even though she said her school experience has changed little since he's been there.

And Cromer said Wednesday that's how it should be.

"There's those five, six kids that resent me being in the school ... but 99 percent of the kids like me being here," Cromer said.


Cromer said one of his duties at the 950-student school is to follow up on criminal activity - mainly fights or drugs - whether he sees it or if a student or staff member reports it to him.

Mostly, he makes "paper arrests." If a student claims she was hit by another student, Cromer will investigate, and if there's enough evidence he'll write a juvenile delinquency report and file it at headquarters.

"By the end of the school year, it's going to be hundreds" of paper arrests, Cromer said. He said he's taken only one student into custody so far.

Slater's mother, Traci Funk, said she has no problem with police making arrests in the school.

"I think that needs to be done," said Funk, 37, of Williamsport. "If something happens, (police) can't get there quick enough if they weren't in school. ...

"There's a lot of stuff going on in schools. I don't mean in Hagerstown, but schools period."

The $125,000 grant requires that after the grant expires in 2006, the department maintain both officers for one year. But afterwards, it's up to the department to find money for the two officers, Lt. Gary Spielman said.

"Hopefully, between now and then ... we'll be in a better economic situation," Summers said.

He said the department will seek help from the Washington County Board of Education to fund the school-based officers because another requirement was that the department had to hire two new officers to replace the officers who were moved out of patrol into the schools.

Mike Harshman, the chairman of South High's parent-staff group, said he thinks the program has been successful so far.

"I think it's worthwhile, and I want (Cromer) to stay," Harshman said.

Cromer's duties include meeting with students transferring to South High, as well as teaching the D.A.R.E. drug awareness course. He teaches D.A.R.E. one day a week at an elementary school for training purposes, but he'll be teaching at South High next fall.

Cromer is on call for the schools in South High's district, including Antietam Academy, the Washington County Technical High School, E. Russell Hicks Middle School, Bester and Emma K. Doub elementaries.

Administrators said Cromer adds to the ability of the school to better handle the students.

While there is a Hagerstown police officer in the building a few days a week to teach D.A.R.E., Principal Michael Shockey said there is no full-time school security staff.

Once Cromer completes his D.A.R.E. training, he'll be at the school five days a week, and having Cromer in school a majority of the time is an asset.

"There's just little things that contribute to the culture of the school that if left unattended can get a life of their own and cause a problem," Shockey said. "I think he's an added presence to the school."

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