AG urges continued focus on coordinated school safety efforts


Zoeller visits school corporations, highlights local partnerships

As policymakers at the state, federal and local levels consider methods of improving school safety, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller today visited two school corporations that have partnered with local law enforcement and highlighted efforts such as implementing school resource officers and school liaison officers who help maintain safety and provide ongoing support systems for students and teachers.

The Indiana General Assembly is considering Senate Bill 1 which as initially proposed would provide funds through state matching grants that school systems could apply for to pay for trained law enforcement officer positions to bolster security at schools. School corporations already are required to have safety plans in place and to identify school safety specialists, and some already utilize school resource officers; but since the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy of December 14, many school boards and administrators are examining ways to further enhance safety in their buildings and classrooms.

“Last fall, prior to the Newtown tragedy, the Office of the Attorney General conducted a needs assessment study where Indiana educators and law enforcement made clear they would like to make more school resource officers available in their schools but funding is an obstacle. Though each community’s security needs are different, clearly there is an unmet demand by parents and educators to implement improvements smartly and swiftly, and I applaud the Legislature’s willingness to prioritize school safety this session,” Zoeller 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 of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz said. “I believe that Attorney General Zoeller ‘s proposed legislation to support and expand the School Resource Officer program will help ensure that our schools, personnel, and students are safe and secure.”

Zoeller, who is the lawyer for state government and represents the criminal justice system generally, visited the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation, the third-largest public school system in the state. EVSC has longstanding partnerships with law enforcement agencies that provide officers at its schools. Evansville Police Department officers enhance safety at the EVSC schools within city limits while deputies from the Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Office do the same at EVSC schools outside city limits.

Zoeller also recognized the work of the Southwest Indiana Schools and Community Collaborative partnership that, through a federal Safe Schools Healthy Students grant, funds school resource officers in four school systems in three predominantly rural counties: MSD North Posey, North Gibson School Corporation, South Gibson School Corporation and Warrick County School Corporation. Separately, the City of Huntingburg is exploring the possibility of starting a local school resource officer program.

The Attorney General today also visited Clarksville Community School Corporation. The Clarksville School Board and Town Council recently signed an agreement where the Clarksville Police Department will provide a trained police officer to serve as a school resource officer to work in the system’s three schools.

Zoeller thanked the southwest Indiana school administrators, law enforcement agencies and municipal leaders for their efforts and noted the proposal in the Legislature introduced by State Senator Pete Miller, R-Avon, to make available funding to broaden the use of school resource officers for those schools that determine they need them. Senate Bill 1 will be amended from its original version and Zoeller encourages the Legislature to establish a grant funding approach that allows for flexibility by school boards in meeting school safety and related needs under the State’s home rule that empowers local decision making.

“While various constructive approaches for rural and urban schools will be discussed, it is important that school corporations and law enforcement agencies further develop their existing working relationships and review their emergency plans to provide additional peace of mind for parents, students and teachers,” Zoeller said.

Zoeller added that the Attorney General’s office will closely monitor possible new federal grant programs that might emerge from the federal government to improve school safety after Newtown, and he will work closely with Superintendent Ritz and the DOE, the Legislature and other state agencies to make schools aware of any future federal grant-funding opportunities that could complement state grants.

NOTE: Attached is an executive summary of the Attorney General’s Office’s research-based needs assessment study on school resource officers and their utilization in Indiana, conducted in November and early December 2012 prior to the Newtown, Conn., incident.