Indiana attorney general throws support behind school security bill

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, left, with Indiana Sen. Pete Miller, R-Avon
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Lauren Casey/WTHR intern

INDIANAPOLIS - A new bill would work to help school corporations provide more security for their students.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller announced his support for legislation that would make it possible for school corporations to hire law enforcement officials to help keep students safe in their classrooms. The states would provide grant funding amounting to $50,000 a year for two years to pay for School Resource Officers.

Indiana Sen. Pete Miller (R-Avon) filed the bill Thursday morning on the Senate floor. He noted that this bill is not an "end-all" solution to school safety issues, but rather a first step to protect students.

"This proposal would be a first good 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.

With the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut just last month, public and parent support for more school security has been a hot topic in the news nationwide. But Miller and Zoeller made it clear that this bill is not a direct response to that particular incident. Rather, it is meant as a proactive measure to protect students. 

Zoeller's office completed a needs assessment survey on school safety prior to the incident in Newtown, Conn. and results suggested a need to expand the use of School Resource Officers for their expertise in emergency situations and to deter potential threats to students and staff.

Zoeller said that somewhere between one third to one quarter of the state's schools already have this type of security in in place. 

SROs play many different roles in the school environment, not just a police officer roaming the halls.  They also aid in the creation and implementations the school's safety plan, act as liaisons between school officials and local law enforcement, deter bullying on campuses, participate and hold educational programs, and most importantly they form a relationship with between law enforcement and students.

Miller said that each school district faces different challenges and issues, and this is not a "one size fits all" approach. They are not trying to run schools from the Statehouse, but instead provide schools with options when it comes to protecting their students.

It is unclear at this point in the legislative session if there is bipartisan support for the bill.

 The Department of Education and State Superintendent-elect Glenda Ritz said, "I believe that Attorney General Zoeller's and State Senator 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."

Carmel Police Officer DJ Schoeff is an official with both the Indiana Association of School Resource Officers and The National Association of School Resource Officers. Schoeff, who  welcomes the legislation, said, "It will help SROs develop their relationships with students which in turn serves as one more avenue in keeping schools safe."  

Zoeller will make sure both organizations are part of future planning for the legislation.

The source of the funding for this plan is conceptual at this point and will be discussed during the legislative session.