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School safety bill introduced into General Assembly

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Calling it a “good first step” for school safety, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller outlined a proposed bill that would create a uniform standard for the school resource officers.

Senate Bill 270, introduced Jan. 3 by State Sen. Pete Miller, R-Avon, defines the qualifications for being a school resource officer as well as the duties of that position. In addition, the legislation would provide matching grants that school corporations could use to support their own SROs.

Miller is a member of the Senate Education and Career Development Committee.

Both Zoeller and Miller emphasized this bill is an initial step and not the single answer to improving school safety.

“I think the state government, the legislators, the governor-elect (Mike) Pence, (education) superintendent-elect (Glenda) Ritz will all have several opportunities to consider proposals on school safety,” Zoeller said, “but as a first step, Sen. Miller and I would like to propose to expand upon a program that’s currently in place in the state of Indiana and has shown proven benefit.”

Although Zoeller noted this bill “reflects a little bit” of the shooting at the Newtown, Conn., elementary school in December, he emphasized his office was working on this legislation before that tragic event. It builds upon the current system in place by providing a $10 million boost in additional funding.

“I think it’s particularly important these positions be expanded upon in light of the tragedy in Connecticut,” the attorney general said of SROs. “I think school safety is on the minds of a lot of parents and the public at large.”

The legislation defines that the SRO must be either a school employee or law enforcement officer who has completed a training program and received certification. The duties of these officers include promoting school safety, addressing bullying and mentoring students.

Zoeller backed away from questions that the bill opens the door for teachers and coaches to become SROs. He noted to be a school resource officer, individuals will have to go through law enforcement training and that the position is most closely related to law enforcement.

A key hurdle, Zoeller and Miller acknowledge, is money. In a press release, the funding was described as “conceptual at this point.” The bill calls for an appropriation of $10 million into the Indiana Safe School Fund from which state matching grants will be drawn. These grants of up to $50,000 would be available to school corporations for two years.

Miller called the grants “seed money.” Permanent funding would have to come from the local sources or other legislative means.

 

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