Donoven Brooks, who is running for Baltimore City Sheriff, spoke to Southeast residents last week about his current job.
Brooks is currently a Baltimore City School Police supervisor in Sector 7, in northeast Baltimore. He supervises 18 police officers who cover 22 school buildings. At the Southeastern District Police Community Relations Council meeting last week, Brooks took questions about school policing.
On the “social science” component:
A resident asked Brooks if school police officers take more of a traditional policing approach or apply more social skills to their roles in the schools.
“I would say we apply our social science skills a lot more,” said Brooks, adding that school police officers bear some responsibility for weighing “whether or not we give a student a second bite of the apple, so to speak, if there’s been an infraction.”
Also, he added, police officers decide “whether we want to solicit the support of an administrator or teacher before making an arrest.”
Brooks noted that administrators such as school principals actually have more authority than the police in certain situations. While an officer needs probable cause and a warrant to execute a search-and-seizure, a principal can do essentially the same thing with fewer restrictions, he said.
However, when a crime has been committed, police intervention is necessary.
“Some of the crimes we see being committed are being committed by young people,” Brooks said. “Victims have to have access to justice, whether a crime came from young or old.”
On gang activity in schools:
A resident asked how much gang activity influences school policing.
“That will vary from area to area,” said Brooks. “We look for it everywhere, but we focus on areas where it’s occurring.”
He added that school police try to prevent gang activity “on the front end,” by addressing “9-, 10-, 11-year-olds affiliating themselves with gangs.” Some of the school police are GREAT officers: Gang Resistance and Training, said Brooks.
Regarding gangs—and everything else—Brooks noted that the School Police Department shares information with other agencies, such as the BCPD Gang Unit.
On training for school police:
Brooks said that school police graduate from the Baltimore City Police Academy with regular city police. The difference, he said, is that school police must familiarize themselves with education law.
“It basically deals with ensuring we don’t infringe on certain rights,” he said.
On top priorities:
A resident inquired as to the top three categories of calls school police have received in the last year. Instead, Brooks spoke about the top three priorities of school police.
First, he said, “We want to keep weapons out of schools.”
He clarified, however, that while weapons in schools are not tolerated under any circumstances, the public perception of “weapons in schools” may be off a bit.
“There are so many students who, for whatever reason, travel in fear,” Brooks explained, adding that the police will often find a weapon on a student without a history of violence or trouble-making.
“You don’t know how they’ve been threatened in the community on the way to school or on the way home,” he said.
Another priority is monitoring gang activity, which might entail “sharing information about students—he could be getting transferred to a school with people he has issues with.”
The final major priority, Brooks said, is simply “keeping school safety.”
As for actual calls, Brooks said school police are called most often to respond to fights.
“We live in a very litigious society,” he said. “People are very careful of how they intervene.”
by Erik Zygmont