INDIANA (www.incnow.tv) - Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller is putting his support behind a recently filed bill in the State Senate that would offer state funded grants to school districts hiring resource officers.
Senate Bill 270 was filed by State Senator Pete Miller (R-Avon), a member of the Senate Education and Career Development Committee. It has also garnered the support of State Superintendent-elect Glenda Ritz.
The proposed legislation would set aside $10 million in the Indiana Safe School Fund for grant funding. School districts could apply for up to $50,000 a year for two years. The district and the partnering local law enforcement agency would be responsible for matching the state grant.
The proposal would also create a more consistent job description for school resource officers. For example, it would require school resource officers to be school corporation employees or employees of a local law enforcement agency. Training, certification and specific safety responsibilities would also be required.
In Indiana's largest public school district, Fort Wayne Community Schools, there are already six school resource officers working throughout the district. Five are located in the district's high schools. The sixth officer splits his time among the district's middle and high schools.
Krista Stockman, a spokesperson for FWCS, says the district partners with Fort Wayne Police to cover the cost of those full-time resource officers. Stockman says they serve as an added layer of safety for students and staff. In addition, she says officers provide mentorship opportunities and serve as positive role models for students.
Stockman says the district is responsible for paying half of a police officer's starting salary, even though most officers aren't new to the department. The police department pays for the remainder of the officer's salary. For the six resource officers in the district, she says that amounts to more than $120,000 annually.
To staff every building in the district under that same arrangement would cost FWCS about $2.4 million per year. "The financing of this is going to be challenging I'm sure, if this is what the state decides it wants to do, because we're just one school district," says Stockman.
FWCS also spends more than $600,000 annually on security guards. Those guards are often hired to work at school functions and meetings.
The Allen County Sheriff's Department also has resource officers in Northwest and Southwest Allen County Schools. In addition, talks are underway to set up a similar program with East Allen County Schools.
Sheriff Ken Fries says resource officers provide a valuable resource to area districts, but the proposed legislation could create staffing challenges. He says there aren't enough officers on the department to place resource officers at every school in Allen County.
Instead, Fries says he favors allowing school employees to carry weapons, as long as there are strict guidelines, procedures and oversights in place. However, he says people shouldn't look for a single solution to address school safety.
Fries says the most important steps should be taken at home. "Guns are out there. They're not going to go away, no matter what kind of legislation there is. So, we as parents and as administrators, we need to make sure that we're responsible for our kids and our own actions."
The proposed legislation will be considered by the Indiana General Assembly, which returned to session on Monday.
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