by Caitlin Huston
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller commended state legislators on passed bills Monday, highlighting a bill that the school resource officers program across the state.
Stopping in Logansport to thank State Sen. Randy Head, R-Logansport, for his work, Zoeller spoke about the importance of recently passed Senate Enrolled Act 1, which gives $50,000 state matching grants to school corporations for their school resource officers programs. Despite controversy about the bill and excessive policing of students, Zoeller and Head both said they expect the added officers to have a positive impact on officer and student relationships.
Under the bill, schools can apply to a state board to receive the two-year grants, whether it be to start a new program or expand their current program. Schools will also be able to use the grants for threat assessment of school buildings and to buy safety equipment.
SEA 1 was signed by Gov. Mike Pence and became law May 7.
In an interview, Zoeller said the bill was actually worked on for about a year before the Newtown, Conn., school shooting in order the “rebuild” the relationship between students and police.
“That relationship really builds for an opportunity to address problems before they become serious,” Zoeller said.
After the December shooting, the House Education Committee added an amendment to the bill that would have required an armed staff member at all public schools in Indiana during school hours.
That amendment was voted down by the Indiana House in April and the bill returned largely to its original form before the vote.
Head said the added amendment was “misguided” and he would not have been able to support the bill if it had remained in there. One reason, Head said, is that he believes police, rather than a staff member with gun experience, are the best-equipped to handle emergencies.
“You need a lot more skills than marksmanship when you have an emergency situation,” Head said.
Zoeller also said amendment would have “undervalued law enforcement” and also been an insurance risk.
However, a summer study committee will continue to look at the topic of how to improve school safety and Zoeller said that discussion could include arming staff members.
The study could also turn into a future bill, Head said.
“It’s always possible,” Head said.
State advocates have also voiced concerns about more police in schools leading to more children arrested instead of going through the school’s discipline process.
Zoeller said they studied the school resource officers in other states and found that over-policing has not been much of an issue. He said school administrators would also have to work with the officers to establish when a student’s conduct is a police matter versus a school rules violation.
“They can delineate,” Zoeller said.
In Logansport, Police Chief Mike Clark said he believes the resource officer at Logansport High School has worked well for both the police and the school system. He added the police would only arrest a student if they had broken a law, not just a school rule.
“I would believe that if they had broken a law, they would be called anyway,” Clark said speaking about police.
Zoeller added that Head’s work in the legislature and especially on Senate Enrolled Act 1, which will strengthens Indiana’s ban on synthetic drugs — has been valuable.
“His voice is well heard among his colleagues,” Zoeller said.
Caitlin Huston is a staff reporter of the Pharos-Tribune.
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