On-duty police officers in Baltimore County Public Schools have a new tool at their disposal—metal-detecting wands.
The wands, intended to help school resource officers detect weapons on school grounds, are in direct response to the shooting at Perry Hall High School on Aug. 27 and gun incident at Stemmers Run Middle School in Essex on Sept. 11, according to Baltimore County Police Department Chief Jim Johnson.
"I believe that the devices have the potential to enhance school security. Certainly, we believe that in the future, these devices could be effective at keeping weapons out of schools," Johnson said.
Across the county, school resource officers are assigned to every public high school and all but five public middle schools. The number of officers on duty at each school and included middle schools are determined by police studies and are currently under review by the department, according to Johnson.
All 63 of the county's school resource officers have been issued a wand and trained in their use. Officers will begin using them in schools on Thursday. The purchase of 70 Garrett Super Scanner V wands cost the department about $7,000.
Johnson said the wands are similar to those used by security guards at major sporting events, and in court rooms and airports.
"Last weekend at the Ravens game, over 70,000 people were wanded before gong into the stadium. There's already some measure of awareness about these devices," he said.
Use of the wands in schools, however, must cross a high threshold.
Officers must have reasonable suspicion of a threat, including an "unusual lump or bulge under someone’s clothing, or hearing a report that a student has threatened to bring a gun to school," according to a press release from police.
Schools resource officers will not use the wands on every student and will not conduct random searches. School personnel, including teachers, will not be allowed to use the wands. With emergency exceptions, school administrators must be present when officers scan a student. The wands will not be used if a person objects because of medical conditions, including pregnancy or a pacemaker, according to the release.
Some parents suggested the use of wands during a community meeting in the week following the Perry Hall shooting, but the installation of stationary metal detectors at school entrances also received support.
The wands are portable and more cost effective than the stationary machines, Johnson said.
"A fixed metal detector—I do not think that's appropriate in a school building. I would point out that very few students have intent on causing harm in school buildings," he said.
Johnson said it is unknown if the use of wands would have prevented or impacted the incidents in Perry Hall and Essex, because officers did not observe suspicious behavior in advance.
"We don't know exactly what officers were thinking seconds before those incidents occurred, but who knows what kind of impact these devices could have in schools tomorrow," he said.
Johnson emphasized that the wands are a part of ongoing security efforts in county schools. The department has recently added 8,000 hours of patrol time for school resource officers, and is spending over $7 million annually toward school security.
He urged students and school administrators to be vigilant in reporting any suspicious behavior immediately to police, and asked parents to secure their weapons at home.
County residents can visit their local police precincts for free gun locks, he added.
"The issue here is weapons. If you decide to lawfully own a weapon, secure that weapon," he said.