Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller announced his support today for a bill filed by State Sen. Pete Miller (R-Avon) that would encourage school corporations to enter into formal relationships with local police or sheriffs’ departments to put in place school resource officers by providing state grant funding.
School resource officers usually are full-time law enforcement officers assigned to a school from a local law enforcement agency to focus on overall school safety, assist with student discipline and provide mentoring opportunities. The legislation Miller filed Thursday would create uniformity in the standards and duties for school resource officers.
Senate Bill 270 would make grants available to schools that don’t currently have a resource officer agreement in place and offer funding support to schools with existing programs, so long as there is local matching funding and the new standards are adopted.
Although the legislation was not originally intended as a response to the Newtown, Conn., tragedy of Dec. 14, Zoeller and Miller noted the bill would become state government’s first formal proposal to address increased school safety in Indiana in the wake of the incident.
“In light of the recent tragic events in Connecticut, we know school safety is a subject parents and the public are very concerned about. In a needs assessment researching school safety last fall, educators and law enforcement leaders indicated they would like to make school resource officers available in more schools. Many have asked, ‘What can Indiana do now to enhance school safety?’ and this is something legislators can do early in 2013,” Zoeller said.
“This proposal would be a good first step to meet an immediate need and expand resource officers into schools that don’t already have them, and still give the Legislature and Executive Branch the opportunity to look at other more long-term comprehensive safety options,” Miller said.
“The Department of Education strives to support and provide our schools, teachers and administrators with all the tools and resources they need to create a safe and positive learning environment for our students,” State Superintendent-elect Glenda Ritz said. “And that is why I believe that Attorney General Zoeller’s and State Sen. Miller’s proposed legislation to support and expand the School Resource Officer program will help in the identification and prevention of bullying, and ensure that our schools, personnel, and students are safe and secure. In addition, I will be working with Governor-elect Pence to assess our schools’ safety and security protocols,” Ritz said.
Miller filed his legislation, Senate Bill 270, yesterday which will be considered by the 2013 Indiana General Assembly. Miller is a member of the Senate Education and Career Development Committee.
It is estimated that at least one quarter to one third of Indiana school corporations already have resource officers. Without a specific definition of the position in state law, resource officers’ duties can vary from one school district to another.
In some schools, resource officers have a predominantly building-security role, in others they assist with student conduct or counseling issues such as misbehavior, and the needs assessment revealed a need for uniformity and desire by stakeholders for a greater utilization of school resource officers.
Miller’s legislation that Zoeller supports would write a definition into state law that would specify school resource officers must be either school corporation employees or law enforcement officers with a police agency who work on contract for the school, and they must complete a training program and obtain certification.
The bill would define their duties as (1) assisting with implementing the school’s safety plan and supporting the school safety specialist program, (2) promoting a safe school environment through reduction in crime and rule violations, (3) acting as liaison to local law enforcement, (4) detecting and addressing bullying, (5) participating in law-related educational programs when needed and (6) serving as a mentor to students. Each year, resource officers would complete an annual report that would allow for evaluation of their efforts
As currently drafted, the legislation would appropriate $10 million into the Indiana Safe School Fund from which state grants could be awarded. Any school corporation or charter school could apply for a state grant of up to $50,000 a year for two years, to create or formalize such positions.
To qualify for a grant, a school corporation would have to pay a portion of the officer costs that, when combined with the portion paid by local law enforcement, would equal 50 percent of the total costs. The 50-50 local match is so that positions would be adequately funded to employ full-time qualified officers.
Miller noted the funding source is conceptual at this point and he expects final funding details to be adjusted during the normal give-and-take of the legislative process. “The grant funding would be intended as seed money to expand the use of resource officers around the state on an interim basis, with the idea that after two years the positions could either be funded locally or through other sources as the Legislature designates,” Miller said.
By facilitating grant funding, Senate Bill 270 encourages school corporations to build or enhance working relationships with their local police or sheriff’s department. Participation in the grant program would be voluntary and based on local need; school boards would not be required to create the positions or apply for funds. Criteria for awarding grants will be developed based on factors such as school size, access to the nearest law enforcement agency and existing programs.
Zoeller noted Senate Bill 270 is consistent with Indiana’s early leadership role among states in requiring schools to have school safety plans in place. The bill also would complement a 2009 law the Legislature passed, the Teacher Protection Act, through which the Attorney General’s Office was given heightened responsibility to defend teachers from civil lawsuits arising from disputes over teachers imposing school discipline in the classroom.
The statute gave teachers limited immunity from lawsuits provided they had followed school corporation policies, and it allowed the Attorney General’s Office to serve as a teacher’s legal counsel in such litigation. Zoeller added that his support for Miller’s bill is consistent with the role of the Attorney General’s Office as lawyer for state government and advocate for law enforcement and the criminal justice system generally.