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Indiana News

South Bend schools board approves new contract governing the role of police in schools

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Justin Hicks / WVPE
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The South Bend Community School Corporation Board voted 4 to 3 Monday night to approve a new contract governing the role of police in South Bend schools.

Previously, South Bend’s school resource officers operated under a four-page contract between the district and the South Bend Police Department dating back to 2012.

That agreement came under criticism earlier this year because it continued indefinitely and did not contain details on the roles and responsibilities of SROs.

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

The new contract — officially known as a memorandum of understanding, or MOU — is 13 pages long and details officers’ training, responsibilities and authority within school buildings.

The draft agreement was first presented to the public during a community meeting last month.

During the Monday school board meeting, district attorney Brian Kubicki said the final version has some changes due to public feedback.

Instead of running indefinitely, the new MOU runs for two years and requires formal re-adoption at the end of each term.  If not re-adopted, both parties have 180 days to re-negotiate. If not re-negotiated, the agreement would terminate.

In addition, the new MOU requires an annual review of the SRO program by a committee of representatives from the district, the police department and community members — specifically, at least one parent.

It also clarifies the purpose of the SRO program, saying that it “exists to maintain collaborative efforts to provide safe schools and safe learning environment for staff, faculty, students and visitors at SBCSC schools, while developing positive relationships between SROs and students and promoting community policing.”

Some public commenters criticized the agreement, saying the district should not have SROs at all. And before the meeting, South Bend Black Lives Matter released a statement urging the board to vote down the agreement.

Darryl Heller is the director of the Indiana University South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center and a member of South Bend’s Board of Public Safety.

He said he is “disappointed” with the vote, and that the Nov. community meeting where the draft agreement was unveiled was a discussion on whether the MOU was acceptable instead of a discussion on whether SROs should be in district schools.

“Blindly sticking to the SRO program is a way of taking the easy way out,” he said. “If the argument is that SROs make schools safer, are the schools that don’t have them less safe?”

“If there are non-SRO options for school safety, then why can’t they be applied to all schools?” he added.

Currently, Adams and Riley High School each have one SRO and Washington High School has none. Two more SROs split their time between four middle schools — Jefferson, LaSalle, Jackson and Edison.

In response, superintendent Brandon White shared the results of a May 2021 survey the district conducted to gauge opinions on SROs.

In it, 75.9 percent of respondents said SROs make schools safer and 86.9 percent said it was very or somewhat important to keep them in South Bend schools.

The survey was completed by 2,396 people. The majority of respondents — 81.7 percent — were district employees or parents. Twenty-one percent were students.

The MOU ultimately passed 4 to 3, with board members Stephanie Ball, Stuart Greene and Oletha Jones voting against it.

What’s in the new contract?

The new memorandum of understanding is actually two documents — one governing school resource officers from the South Bend Police Department and the other governing SROs from the St. Joseph County Police Department.

Both will be effective from Aug. 1, 2021, to July 31, 2023, and can be amended if both parties agree.

The agreements outline 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 district is budgeting $375,000 per year and will pay the salary of the officers during the school year. The city will pay for the officers’ benefits year-round as well as the salary during the months school is not in session.

In response to a question from board member Stephanie Ball, district attorney Brian Kubicki said that will break down to a roughly even split of cost.

The MOU also states that SROs will perform SRO duties as well as regular law enforcement duties determined by the police department.

Those include serving as mentors to students, being classroom resources for programs designed to reduce “crime, drug abuse or violence,” and gathering information about “violent crime, gang activity, and other crimes occurring on campus and/or in the surrounding neighborhoods on campus and in the surrounding neighborhood.”

Officers will “report and investigate all crimes originating on campus.” They 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.”

The MOU also states that SROs “shall not by any means be considered as security guards and shall not be used in that capacity.”

They are not required to enforce school disciplinary procedures and are subject to department use of force policy and school policy

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.

Contact Jakob at jlazzaro@wvpe.org or follow him on Twitter at @JakobLazzaro.

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