More from the Indiana Attorney General's office: With school safety under a spotlight nationwide since the Newtown, Connecticut, tragedy, the first session of Thursday'’s Criminal and Civil Justice Summit focused on school resource officer (SRO) programs where specially trained law enforcement officers are stationed at schools to protect students and teachers. One of this morning’s speakers was Mo Canady, executive director of the National School Resource Officer Association (NASRO), who addressed the role of police in school safety policies. The approaches taken in Indiana schools were discussed by Carmel police officer D.J. Schoeff who is SRO for Carmel Middle School, and Fort Wayne police officer Chris Crapser who is SRO in the Fort Wayne Community Schools.
Last fall, prior to the Newtown tragedy, the Attorney General’s Office conducted a needs assessment study where Indiana educators and law enforcement indicated they would like to make more school resource officers available in their schools but funding is an obstacle.Zoeller reiterated his support for a bill now moving through the Legislature, Senate Bill 1, that would define school resource officers in law and provide state matching grants to help schools create or expand SRO positions through local control and decision-making. He invited the three SRO experts to speak at today’s summit, whose theme was “Keeping Hoosier Children From Harm.”
“The increase in the dangers that are present to our children require the State of Indiana to do more to meet our obligations to the most vulnerable in our society. This justice summit brings together the three branches of state government, local school administrators, members of law enforcement and others who serve and protect the children of our state to find ways to work together collaboratively in a common effort,” Zoeller said.
As the lawyer for state government, Zoeller has organized two previous Criminal and Civil Justice Summits, or free legal seminars, to facilitate discussion among attorneys, judges, prosecutors, legislators, policymakers and the public on subjects facing the judicial system. Past summit topics included the impact of the mortgage foreclosure crisis on homeowners, and disparities between counties in seeking the death penalty due to costs that resulted in fairness concerns.
Other session topics and speakers in Thursday'’s Criminal and Civil Justice Summit include:
Juvenile Detention Reform. Under the leadership of Judge Marilyn Moores of Marion Superior Court Juvenile Division, Marion County became a site for the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Judge Moores led efforts to enact system-wide reforms to reduce the number of juvenile detainees while maintaining public safety. Judge Moores today led a panel discussion on approaches to juvenile detention reform.
Child Victims of Human Trafficking. Indiana’s anti-human-trafficking task force, IPATH, and the Attorney General’s Office have worked to raise awareness about children becoming victims of human trafficking and prostitution due to criminals who support the commercial sex industry. Because of concerns about human trafficking associated with large sporting events, Indiana in 2012 passed a new trafficking law prior to Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis. At today’s summit, attendees heard from Deputy Attorney General Abigail Kuzma, chief counsel of the Consumer Protection Division, and Marion County Deputy Prosecutor Mary Hutchison, who handles human trafficking investigations and prosecutions.
Investigating and Prosecuting Internet Sex Offenders. Law enforcement has found that sex offenders who prey upon children typically use the Internet to lure their victims. The Indiana Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, or ICAC, is a local, state and federal partnership that works to combat online predators. Steven DeBrota, Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana, discussed his work prosecuting such cases.
Thursday’s four summit topics were among the list of priorities Attorney General Zoeller announced in 2012 as part of his second-term agenda.
The school resource officer legislation, Senate Bill 1, recommended by the Attorney General and authored by State Senator Pete Miller, R-Avon, passed 43-7 in the full Indiana Senate on Feb. 25 and has advanced to the Indiana House. If passed into law, SB 1 would do the following:
· Update the statute to legally define school resource officers as being law enforcement officers who have at least 40 additional hours of certified SRO training. Such officers could be employed directly by schools or work for law enforcement agencies and be assigned to schools under an agreement.
· Create a Secured School Fund from which schools could apply for two-year matching grants of up to $50,000 each, to use to 1) employ a school resource officer, 2) conduct a threat assessment of school buildings, or 3) purchase equipment and technology to restrict access to school property or expedite notification of first responders.
· Set up a five-member board that includes the Attorney General that would review grant applications and award funding to qualifying proposals.
The Indiana General Assembly is considering Senate Bill 1 even as the White House recently announced a proposal for a $150 million federal grant program to fund 1,000 resource officers and school counselors nationwide in the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy. Zoeller said the Attorney General’s Office will closely monitor whatever federal grant program might emerge, and he will work closely with the Department of Education, the Legislature and other state agencies to make schools aware of any federal funding opportunities that could complement state grants.