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April 19, 2013

Questions raised about more police presence in schools

Some worry that more students will enter justice system without merit

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 shooting spree at the Newtown Elementary School in Connecticut, 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 at 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.

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