INDIANAPOLIS — Now that a controversial measure requiring armed personnel in every Indiana school is gone from Senate Bill 1, some youth advocates want legislators to focus on unrelated provisions in the bill giving school police more power.
They worry that the legislation aimed at putting more police in schools to keep students safe from outside threats will have an unintended consequence: more children arrested for bad behavior rather than sent to the principal’s office.
“We need safeguards against over-policing children,” said JauNae Hanger, an Indianapolis civil rights attorney and chair of the Children’s Policy and Law Initiative.
Senate Bill 1 shot into the headlines two weeks ago when the House Education Committee amended the legislation to require every public school in Indiana have someone on staff with a loaded weapon during school hours. The measure’s supporters cited the December 2012 shooting spree at Newtown Elementary School, which left 20 children and six staff members dead.
The provision was later pulled by the full House, which voted Monday to return the bill to its original intent: The creation of a state school safety board and a matching grant program that local schools could tap to hire a trained “school resource officer” who is armed and has full law enforcement powers.
The bill also contains a provision that allows those school resource officers the power to arrest students for resisting law enforcement if they pull back or balk at being handcuffed or detained.
Hanger sees that provision as a recipe for disaster: A misbehaving but frightened student who ends up in the juvenile justice system and tossed out of school.
“If we’re going to take the opportunity to put more police in schools, we need to take a step back to make sure they’re well-trained and that we have the best practices in place,” Hanger said.
State Sen. Pete Miller, a Republican from Avon who authored Senate Bill 1, was glad to see the legislation return to its original intent. Miller noted his bill includes a 40-hour training requirement in dealing with students and school facilities for police officers hired to work as school resource officers.
“That’s an important part of the legislation,” Miller said.
He also said the amendment that gives school resource officers the power to arrest students for resisting law enforcement will be one of the issues that will be taken up by a House-Senate conference committee that has to negotiate the final language of Senate Bill 1.
Similar concerns about the impact of increased police presence in schools have been voiced by juvenile court judges in other states, who’ve seen a surge in arrests of students for non-violent behavior that, in the past, would have been handled by school discipline policies.
In January, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges released a statement warning about unintended consequences of putting more armed police in schools. The judges noted the accompanying sharp rise in the number of students arrested or given criminal citations at schools each year for relatively minor offenses. And they noted recent studies that show black and Hispanic students and those with disabilities are disproportionately impacted.
“The influx of police in schools has been one of the main contributors to the growing number of children funneled into this (criminal justice) pipeline,” their statement said. “Research shows that aggressive security measures produce alienation and mistrust among students which, in turn, can disrupt the learning environment. Such restrictive environments may actually lead to violence, thus jeopardizing, instead of promoting, school safety.”
Andrew Cullen, legislative liaison for the Indiana Public Defender Council, said schools that employ police as school resource officers need to develop policies that differentiate security issues from discipline issues.
“We need to make sure those resource officers are in schools to protect and serve the children of Indiana,” Cullen said. “And not to harass and arrest them for childish behavior.”