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General Assembly

School safety bill endorsed

Program would give participants $50,000 for officers, equipment

– The state would start offering grants to help Indiana schools hire police officers and buy safety equipment under a proposal endorsed Thursday by a state Senate committee.

The plan would set up a two-year matching grant program allowing schools up to $50,000 a year and establish a state commission to develop recommendations for securing school buildings.

The bill doesn’t require any school districts to take part in the program, but its sponsor said he hoped it would encourage districts to hire police officers who’ve undergone extra training as school resource officers on how to deal with students and school facilities.

Sen. Pete Miller, R-Avon, said work on the bill had already started before the December elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 students and six educators dead. That shooting, however, increased the sense of urgency to act, he said.

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 10-0 to send the bill to the full Senate for consideration. The bill doesn’t include money for the grants, but Miller said he hoped $10 million a year would be set aside in the state budget for the program so that 200 grants could be awarded.

Miller said the grants aren’t intended to provide ongoing extra state support for security steps.

“What you are buying is making sure those threat assessments are up to date, that a preparedness plan is developed and that plan is implemented,” Miller said. “That is where we’d like to be two years from now.”

The bill wouldn’t change current Indiana law that prohibits anyone other than police officers and security guards from possessing firearms on school property, unlike proposals in other states that would relax school gun bans. Bills in Michigan and Oklahoma, for instance, would allow school officials to decide whether employees could carry concealed guns.

Indiana homeland security director John Hill said he expected the proposed grant program would spur more school districts to increase their security training and planning.

“It’s more comprehensive than just giving money to schools,” Hill said. “They’ve got to do an assessment and they’ve got to figure out what the needs are for their particular environment.”

Indiana State Teachers Association lobbyist Brad Tracy said the group supported the proposal.

The bill requires any school resource officers be a certified police officer and have also completed at least 40 hours of additional training on dealing with students and school security, including how to handle lockdowns and searches. It doesn’t require school districts to hire such officers or participate.

Sen. Tim Skinner, D-Terre Haute, said he worried about schools in his district not being able to continue with their current practice of hiring off-duty officers for security.

“I just hope it doesn’t mean that we’re going to have to jump through a bunch of hoops in order to comply with something that we’ve already been doing,” Skinner said.

Indiana has 300 public school districts and the grant program proposal doesn’t guarantee money for any of them.

Some districts already have school resource officers, but those officers are often spread thin. Fort Wayne officer Chris Crapser told the committee that he’s the resource officer for Snider High School and five other schools – and that 50 schools in the city share six officers.

Miller said school districts would have flexibility to develop their own programs and that it probably wasn’t realistic to consider state funding for officers at all schools.

“From a dollars-and-cents perspective, that would be a tough one,” Miller said.