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School police grants running out

September 04, 2006|by KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN - A program that allows two police officers at area schools to issue lectures and slap high-fives, as well as write citations and lock cuffs, will continue at least one more year.

With a grant program funding their positions winding down, Hagerstown Police Department officers Heather Albowicz and Brett McKoy said last week they believe they have been able to prevent problems by building relationships with students.

"I like working with kids, especially when you can help them out of jam. Man, when you see that light bulb go on across their face, it is incredible," said McKoy, who is beginning his second school year stationed at South Hagers-town High School.

According to Lt. Rick Johnson, the Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPs in Schools, grants, which are worth $250,000 over three years, funded the positions of officers on the streets while McKoy and Albowicz have been in the schools. But the grant covering McKoy's position has run out, and the money for Albowicz's slot dries up after this school year, he said.

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As a condition of the U.S. Department of Justice grants, the department funds officers' positions at each of the schools for a year after the federal money ends, Johnson said.

At North High, where Albowicz returned from maternity leave last spring just in time for prom, the school resource program has contributed to a safe, positive atmosphere, Principal Valerie Novak said.

"You know, the littlest thing that you might call the police for, or you might not, she's right here," Novak said.

Albowicz said she and McKoy regularly visit all of the schools in their region of the city. Besides breaking up fights and investigating complaints about issues such as drugs, they teach classes, direct traffic and steer trespassers off school property.

For children who seem headed down the wrong path, Albowicz said she does not mind dispensing the occasional lecture. As a mother, she said, she would like officers in her children's schools, too.

"It's all about that relationship. If there's one kid that I can help out by talking to them on a daily basis, that's what makes it rewarding. And, there are kids where I've said, 'Man, you graduated, that's so cool,'" Albowicz said.

According to Police Chief Arthur Smith, the department is working with the school system to find ways to continue the program.

"What we're trying to do is look at a cost sharing that would be between the board and the city that would be of benefit to everybody," Smith said.

According to Clyde Harrell, director of secondary education for the school system, it's too early to say whether the program will continue. That decision ultimately will be made by the Washington County Board of Education, he said.

The program has helped students and the police, Harrell said.

"I think that there's an advantage that there's a presence there if you need it, and it's a deterrent, and I think it's also a positive influence on the students," he said.

The police also benefit, the officers said. The school position allows students to see police in a different way than how they are portrayed on television, and the students are more willing to help them out, they said.

"I hope that they learn to respect the police, that we are approachable. I'm not out to lock you up and throw away the key," Albowicz said.

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