SOUTH BEND — A draft of a new agreement governing South Bend police assigned in public schools makes few major changes from the existing contract, but it does lay out significantly more detail on training required of officers working in close proximity to students.
South Bend city and school district officials have been working on the agreement for months after community activists this summer called for the removal of officers from the South Bend corporation buildings.
The new draft outlines specific expectations for officers’ training, authority within school buildings and work alongside other district employees. The Tribune was provided a draft of the proposed SRO agreement, which will be discussed in a public meeting Tuesday at Riley High School to gather community feedback.
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Police have responded in recent weeks to multiple security concerns in South Bend high schools and as the district looks to fill a shortage of security guards who work alongside officers in a strictly supervisory role.
“The South Bend School Resource Officer program was developed as a collaborative effort to provide safe schools and a safe learning environment for staff, faculty, students, and visitors,” a city news release reads. “Residents are encouraged to attend the meeting to provide their feedback on the draft MOU between the City and South Bend Schools.”
Revisiting after nearly a decade
Community activists raised concerns this summer that officers were placed in South Bend schools without a contract. The police department responded by sharing its longstanding agreement, or memorandum of understanding, entered during the 2012-13 school year.
That agreement — a four-paragraph document signed on Oct. 9, 2012, by then-superintendent Carole Schmidt and then-police chief Chuck Hurley — outlined a joint understanding to split the costs of a security and emergency preparedness coordinator and seven SROs.
The agreement, in its last sentence, reads: “the city and school corporation also commit to review this arrangement annually and to renew it as appropriate to promote the safety and security of South Bend’s public schools.”
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A five-page supplementary “Program Objectives, Regulations & Functions” document broadly detailed officers’ role in school to investigate crime, provide a visible law enforcement presence and develop a rapport with students.
South Bend police now place four officers in the district. An expert with the National Association of School Resource Officers, which provides guidance on SRO contracts, told The Tribune this summer that it’s good practice for school districts and their law enforcement they partner with to review contracts annually.
The draft agreement shared with The Tribune on Friday states the contract 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 renewal.
The agreement can be amended if agreed to by both parties.
The draft contract provided to The Tribune states that the city agrees to pay the resource officers’ salaries and employment benefits. Additional details, however, were redacted from the draft while the city and district continue to negotiate language specific to cost sharing and insurance.
Training requirements expanded
State law requires that SROs receive at least 40 hours of training specific to serving in school settings. South Bend has conducted this training in the past through the National Association of School Resource Officers, police officials told The Tribune this summer.
Though the district and city’s current contract broadly requires this training, the new proposal pinpoints more than a dozen areas of focus officers should familiarize themselves with to be qualified for work in school settings.
In addition tolongstanding law enforcement practices like threat assessment, emergency operations planning and crime prevention, the agreement puts in writing a need to train for increasingly modern concerns like social media threats.
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The document also outlines desired training for how best to interact with students with disabilities, how to recognize one’s own biases and how to navigate the affects of trauma on childhood development.
The school district may also, at its own expense, provide additional training on implicit bias, restorative justice and the corporation’s recently reworked code of conduct, called Shared Rights and Responsibilities.
Though SROs are not responsible for enforcing school policy and disciplining students — that’s a job overseen by school administrators — they can remind students of rules in their buildings.
Officers should be selected using a joint committee with representatives from both the police department and school district, according to the new draft. A designee at the police department will make a selection based on the committee’s recommendations. A superintendent or other school official can ask for an officer’s removal given a written justification for the request.
Responsibilities similar in new contract
The new document outlines similar administrative aspects of SRO responsibilities — including the uniforms they wear, the department-issued equipment they carry, and the hours of work they conduct.
The SROs are sworn law enforcement officers and as such have a duty to investigate crime and make arrests. Resource officers should inform a principal or other administrator as soon as possible if police action is taken on school property.
The draft agreement contains significant overlap with current policies describing officers’ functions within schools. The proposed contract states officers should take a proactive approach to policing that could include gathering “intelligence on gang activity, burglaries, juvenile crime, etc.” on campus and in the surrounding neighborhood.
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The officers have authority under the proposed contract to conduct investigations involving students which may lead the officer “to leave school campus.”
The proposed agreement also encourages officers to adopt a mentor mentality and educational opportunities for teachers, students and parents to learn about crime prevention, drug abuse or violence, using approved materials upon a faculty member’s request.
The draft also, for the first time in writing, contains a provision on data sharing, saying the district should make available to the police department aggregated reports on disciplinary action, like school-based arrests, citations and court referrals for students.
This information, also shared with the Department of Education, should not contain any information that makes a student identifiable.
Give your feedback
The city convened a public meeting in June as it first embarked on drafting a new agreement with the school district. In that meeting, city and South Bend police officials led a series of roundtable discussions asking the community what they would like to see in the next contract.
The South Bend school corporation also conducted a survey on the topic, though some community activists expressed early doubt in its results, saying the survey failed to take into the account the opinion of those who would prefer to see officers removed from schools completely.
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The city and school district are now convening a second public meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Riley High School to consider feedback on the proposed contract.
A South Bend schools spokeswoman said the results of the school resource officer survey would be shared publicly in a Dec. 6 school board meeting, where trustees are expected to vote on a proposed SRO agreement.
Share your views
Public meeting to consider feedback on proposed agreement to keep police officers in South Bend Community School Corp. buildings.
When: 6 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Riley High School, 1902 Fellows St., South Bend