South Bend Holds Community Discussion On School Resource Officers Amid Calls For Police Reform
South Bend city leaders held a meeting Tuesday night to gather community feedback on the South Bend Community School Corporation’s School Resource Officer program. About 70 people met at Washington High School to discuss whether police officers have a place in city schools.
Dan Lawecki was one of those attendees. He was a school resource officer for three years at Dickinson Fine Arts Academy and Navarre Middle School. He said he understands why some people have reservations about having police in schools.
But he also said that safety concerns like school shootings, having an officer around might put some parents at ease.
“I know there’s more to it than that,” Lawecki said. “But I do think that if we were to get rid of the SROs, that may be the main concern of a lot of parents.”
But meeting participant Darryl Heller has a different view. He’s the director of the Civil Rights Heritage Center at Indiana University South Bend and said police officers in schools don't necessarily make students safer.
“I personally don’t think SROs or police officers belong in our schools,” Heller said. “Every student doesn’t feel safe with police in schools, particularly students of color.”
Many attendees said resource officers build important relationships with kids, but Heller said he believes you don’t need police to do that.
“The relationships that are built can be created by people who don’t carry guns,” Heller said. “Having more social workers, having counsellors, having peacekeepers, having people who are trained in security but aren’t police officers but who come from the community.”
Data was another big topic of discussion, as participants wanted to see statistics on whether school resource officers actually make schools safer.
And the research is inconclusive — some studies show slightly lowered rates of criminal activity, where others do not. And student perceptions of police making them feel safer vary based on race.
But student perspectives were notably absent from the meeting, as participant Lynn Collier said. She was part of the NAACP youth council that was against policing in schools back in the 1960s.
“Where are the kids?” Collier said. “I’m a graduate of Washington High School, class of 1965, and we would have had a committee of somebody coming up here saying, ‘We don’t want them,’ or, ‘We need them.’”
Police officers assigned to South Bend Schools currently operate under an agreement from 2012. Lawecki, Heller and many other attendees agreed that the policy needs to be updated.
“Things have changed since 2012,” Lawecki said. “Policies have changed in the police department, so that’s just one extra thing that does need to be updated with the changing times.”
Heller serves on the South Bend Public Safety Board and said he expects a new agreement will need to be approved by the board.
“What I anticipate happening is they’ll write a new contract that’s going to spell out in some detail what the responsibilities of SROs are,” Heller said. “What I don’t expect is them to actually take SROs out of the schools, which is what I would prefer to see.”
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