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Baltimore Co. Police Prohibited From Interfering With Defacement Of Public School Property

Catonsville, MD – Baltimore County police officers have been ordered to not to respond to or act upon incidents of people defacing or vandalizing public school property.

The directive was made by Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Darryl Williams.

The move came after controversy erupted about the graffiti plastering the sidewalk and outer wall of Hillcrest Elementary School, Baltimore County Police Department (BCPD) Director of Public Affairs Sergeant Vickie Warehime told The Police Tribune on Thursday.

According to information on Hillcrest Elementary School’s social media pages, the school began encouraging students and community members to leave positive messages and drawings on the school sidewalk after in-classroom sessions were suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the tone and content of some of those messages changed dramatically in the wake of the May 25 in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“There have been pro and anti-police statement written in chalk, paint, and etched into concrete with a pressure washer,” Baltimore County Police Department (BCPD) Captain Brandon Rogers wrote in a recent internal email to staff. “The Superintendent of Baltimore County Schools along with County Legal have spoken to the Chief about this activity.”

As a result of those discussions, the BCPD was ordered to stop investigating incidents of vandalism at the county’s schools.

“It is the position of the school board to ALLOW this activity as an expression of free speech,” Capt. Rogers wrote. “Effective immediately…if we get a call for service involving people defacing or damaging a public school we are to take no action.”

Officers are also prohibited from “even mak[ing] an attempt to identify anyone involved” in such activities, the captain added.

BCPD will still continue to check on the public schools, just as they have in the past.

“Schools are critical Infrastructure,” Capt. Rogers wrote in a follow-up email. “We still have a duty to ensure that there are no assaults, suspicious packages, burglaries, CDS use, etc. on their property. The only activity we are not to enforce is tagging, chalking, or writing on the school or school property.”

Although officers are now expected to turn a blind eye to the vandalism and defacing of county property with regards to the public schools, private schools in the area still want laws enforced.

“I have spoken to the Baltimore Jewish Council and they would like us to continue to enforce the law and protect their schools,” Capt. Rogers noted. “They are fully on board with arrests and enforcement for anyone that damages or attempts to damage one of their institutions.”

Allegations have been made that an off-duty officer from another jurisdiction recently got into a confrontation with someone who was using a pressure washer to etch messages into the school’s sidewalk, Sgt. Warehime told The Police Tribune.

The alleged off-duty officer reportedly identified himself and told the suspect to stop, and the suspect left following a brief confrontation.

Another confrontation occurred one or two days later, but it is unknown if it involved the same alleged off-duty officer, Sgt. Warehime said.

Hillcrest Elementary tweeted about the second confrontation on Wednesday.

“A complaint of graffiti initiated a facilities response to wash it,” the post read. “Facilities was not aware of the art. A police office- not BC-was assertive in his request to take it down. We declined. BC Police have been fantastic in protecting the mural and our families as they create.”

Although the BCPD will comply with the directive of the county’s legal office and school district superintendent, the messages and images scrawled across the taxpayer-funded Hillcrest Elementary property are still violations of the law.

“We call it defacing and vandalism,” Sgt. Warehime confirmed.

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

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Written by Holly Matkin

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