In mid-August, the Baltimore Board of Education announced plans to increase the number of police present in Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) – a decision that was met with mixed reactions. Leaders of the teachers’ and administrators’ unions both praised the move, citing the need for school police to be inside schools, building relationships with students and staff. But some advocates for school discipline reform expressed concern that a police presence in schools would do more harm than good if they are not trained and integrated properly.
This week, BCPS hosted a three-day police training institute at Elmer A. Henderson Elementary School aimed at addressing concerns and highlighting issues like school climate and restorative practices. Led by Officer Lawrence Smith, the first session began with a discussion around the importance of community policing (versus traditional policing) and a participatory session for law enforcement about understanding youth culture and how connecting with students can help officers become integral parts of their school communities. He stressed that effective and culturally conscious officers need to understand how youth development and culture impacts student behavior. He went on to highlight the importance of open communication with both students and school officials. The session also gave officers a chance to share their experiences and concerns for the upcoming school year. Akil Hamm, City Schools Police Chief emphasized the importance of cultural competency and recognizing the difficult environments that many of BCPS’s students come from. “We are going to treat these kids like they are our own,” Hamm said.
The second half of the day was led by Dr. Shanda Crowder, director of the University of Maryland School of Social Work’s Positive Schools Center (PSC), an OSI-Baltimore grantee. Dr. Crowder discussed the effects of school climate on school communities and the role of school police officers in creating and maintaining these positive school climates.
On the second day of the training, Ali Smith and Andres Gonzales from the Holistic Life Foundation, another OSI-Baltimore grantee, talked about trauma-responsive mindfulness and yoga. Ali and Andres discussed the importance of self-regulation and creating a mindset of responding before outwardly reacting. They encouraged the officers to recognize and be consciously aware of any reactionary stressors in their lives. They then walked through various breathing and meditative practices shown to help de-escalate these stressors. Ali and Andres further discussed the impact of childhood trauma on the human body, both in students and adults.
The final day was led by University of Baltimore professor Dr. Elizabeth Nix. Dr. Nix presented and led small group discussions on Baltimore’s historical and racial context and its relationship to city schools and city schools police officers. Additional sessions during the training included presentations from the ReEngagement Center, Reading Partners, Newfit Kids, and City Schools.
City Schools Police plans on having ongoing professional development opportunities throughout the school year expanding on the sessions presented in this three-day training as well as the presentation of new topics.