Baltimore school police help shift school climate

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Even before Freddie Gray’s death in Baltimore and the federal grants stemming from it, the 103-officer Baltimore school police force had shifted its emphasis away from arresting students to helping maintain a better school climate.

“We’re arresting kids for only the most serious offenses … violence, possession of a handgun,” said Acting Chief Akil Hamm.

“We’re not there to tell kids to take off their hats or pull their pants up. A lot of our kids are very connected to the [school] police. They don’t look at us like the city police.”

Officers are taking training in mindfulness and yoga, coping skills and Mental Health First Aid – basically CPR for behavioral health issues.

About five years ago, Hamm said, school police were arresting about 500 children a year. Last year, it was down to 62.

He said that when the rioting broke out at the Mondawmin transit station in 2015, police from Baltimore City and several other jurisdictions were present, but only the school police came without riot gear.