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Indiana News

Public offers feedback on new draft contract governing police in South Bend schools

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Jakob Lazzaro / WVPE
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South Bend leaders held a meeting Tuesday night to gather community feedback on the school district’s new agreement with the police department to place resource officers in schools.

The South Bend Community School Corporation and the South Bend Police Department have operated under the same 4-page contract since 2012. 

The district released a draft of a new 13-page contract this week that includes more details on officers’ training and authority within school buildings.

Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski said a “lot of hard work” went into developing the document — it has input from several community meetings as well as from the city, current school resource officers and police command staff.

“Very descriptive details of the job expectations and duties of an SRO, what they can and can't, should or shouldn't do,” Ruszkowski said. “Those are laid out — those weren’t really laid out before.”

Many participants at Tuesday’s meeting – like Regina Williams-Preston – said they didn’t want police in schools at all, regardless of the new contract.

“The data shows that police don’t make schools safer,” Williams-Preston said. “Let’s invest in what works. What works? Positive behavior intervention, restorative justice.”

And several participants, including Williams-Preston, said the contract should have an “exit strategy” for phasing police out of schools. She also doesn’t like that school resource officers will be armed and in full uniform.  

“I have a lot of concerns about that,” Williams-Preston said. “There’s a lot of fear and anxiety around police in schools, and it’s often unspoken.”

But others, like Janet Evelyn, said resource officers do have a place in schools — but that the contract needs to be more detailed and include more parent involvement.

In her view, the contract needs to outline specific situations SROs might need to respond to and what that response should be, so parents know what to expect if their child is involved.

“It has to be based on, ‘Okay, I knew this was going to be the outcome,’” Evelyn said. “If A happens, then B. So now, let’s say we have to talk consequences – I’m already educated.”

Participants also said the new contract should include concrete measures of whether the SRO partnership is working, like performance evaluations or a data-based review.

Ruszkowski said things are “99 percent close” to being finished, and he expects the police department and the school district to adopt a final draft of the contract by the end of the year.

What’s in the new contract?

The new contract — officially known as a memorandum of understanding, or MOU — would be effective from Aug. 1, 2021, to July 31, 2022, and renew automatically unless either the school district or city requested in writing to decline.

The agreement can be amended if both parties agree. It outlines specific expectations for officers' training, authority within school buildings and the work they will do alongside other district employees.

Under Indiana law, the document says SROs must have training on:

  • Ethical standards to build mutual respect and trust
  • Interacting with students with disabilities
  • Becoming more effective mentors and fostering positive relationships with students
  • Addressing incidents that originate or intersect on social media
  • The interaction between intellectual and emotional development in teenagers
  • The impact of trauma on child development
  • The resources available for assisting SROs in their role on anti sex-trafficking efforts
  • School law
  • Awareness and recognition of biases within SROs that can be a barrier to building successful relationships with diverse school populations
  • Threat-assessment practices
  • School safety and emergency operations planning
  • Crime prevention through environmental design of school campuses

In addition, SROs must participate in South Bend Community School Corporation developed training on the district’s student code of conduct, cultural competency, implicit bias and restorative justice practices.
The district is responsible for the costs of the additional training. Outside of that, the district and the police department will share the cost of SROs based on a 12-month calendar.

The MOU also states that SROs will perform SRO duties as well as regular law enforcement duties determined by the police department. That can include gathering “intelligence on gang activity, burglaries, juvenile crime, etc." on campus and in the surrounding neighborhood.

Officers will typically be on duty on campus during normal school hours, but they also have authority to conduct investigations involving students that may require them to “leave school campus.”

They are not required to enforce school disciplinary procedures.

The draft also includes a provision on data sharing — it says the district should make reports on disciplinary action “including but not limited to school-based arrests, citations, and court referrals of students” available to the police department.

However, the shared information must anonymize students.

A joint committee of police officers and district officials will make recommendations to the department regarding what officers should serve as SROs. The department will then assign SROs as requested and may remove them at their discretion.

The district superintendent, or a superintendent representative, may also request an officer’s removal if they provide documentation justifying why.

In addition, the district agrees to provide SROs a private office space, desk, chair, school radio and computer. The police department agrees to provide SROs a fully marked police car. SROs will work in police uniform and carry standard equipment, including guns and tasers.

Concerns about the old MOU

The 2012 MOU attracted controversy earlier this year after activists called for removing police from schools and raised concerns that it was still in force.

The document includes a sentence saying “the city and school corporation also commit to review this arrangement annually,” but that had not taken place.

“We just thought that carried over from year to year, and that wasn’t the case,” Ruszkowski said. “From a legal and a right perspective, kind of dropped the ball on that — we all did. With that being said, there was nothing nefarious, there was no ill intent. We kept operating the way we had as decent human beings, as decent police officers.”

He said that won’t be the case with the new MOU, even though it has a provision to renew automatically.

“This isn’t like the end all, cure all,” Ruszkowski said. “Every year, it needs to be revisited. And we’ll do that from now on, like we do with our other MOUs.”

Currently, there are four South Bend Police Department officers serving as SROs. Adams and Riley High School each have one officer, and the other two officers split their time between four middle schools — Jefferson, LaSalle, Jackson and Edison.

Ruszkowski said that if personnel numbers increase — the department currently has 221 officers — there’s a “strong possibility” that the number of SROs would increase.

But he also said it will be a “case by case basis” and that the department will work with the school corporation to determine if SROs are needed or wanted in various schools.

Contact Jakob at jlazzaro@wvpe.org or follow him on Twitter at @JakobLazzaro. Contact Gemma at gdicarlo@wvpe.org or follow her on Twitter @gemma_dicarlo.

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