Pence signs bill to train school safety officers, fund safety training

Bill part of response to Connecticut shootings

INDIANAPOLIS - Schools could qualify for matching state-level grants to pay the salaries of newly-hired "school resource officers" under a measure that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed into law Tuesday.

The proposal aims to improve school safety in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. shootings by helping schools hire law-enforcement officials with special training in dealing with students and providing security.

It would allow Indiana schools to seek $50,000 matching grants to hire school resource officers. The program is funded through the state's new budget, which includes $20 million for school resource officers over two years.

"We have no higher priority than ensuring the safety of our children," Pence said. "In combination with our administration's school safety working group, the legislation I sign today will provide new resources to make our schools safer so our teachers can focus on education and our kids can simply be kids."

The measure was championed by Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller and state Sen. Pete Miller, R-Avon.

It went through several iterations during the legislative process – including, at one point after an amendment in a House committee, requiring every school in the state to have an armed security officer.

That proposal was stripped out after Pence said he would prefer that such decisions be made on the local level and Zoeller complained that the bill had drifted far away from its initial focus. The attorney general said he is pleased with the final version.

"The legislature appropriately refocused its attention on school resource officers, who are highly trained law enforcement officials," Zoeller said.

"Their presence in schools will serve to increase respect for law by students and also deter problems of bullying, weapons and drug abuse that must be addressed in schools every day. School resource officers build public trust."

Pence said he was preparing later Tuesday to meet with the working group that he's had studying school safety policies. He said the group is expected to offer a set of recommendations before the start of the 2013-2014 school year.

"It's extremely important that we take the tragedy in Connecticut and we internalize it in a way that we change policies and we change practices," he said.

Individuals still may not carry firearms on school property or buses, but in one little-discussed change, the bill would now allow individuals to carry firearms at other property being used for school functions without committing a Class D felony.

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