DUNLAP — Concord Community Schools inaugural year for its police department is underway, and administrators already say students and staff have benefited from educational opportunities and increased safety measures from having two officers on duty.
Law enforcement veterans Nic Minder and Darrin Tucker were sworn in more than three months ago after school board members chose them in April to replace the school resource officer model in the Concord district. They started immediately and split duties between the seven schools in the district.
So far, both officers think they are already making an impact.
“Its been really different every day,” Minder said.
Since the beginning of the 2017-18 school year more than a week ago, both Minder and Tucker have been out in the morning hours watching traffic, and in the afternoon, have been helping with traffic flow.
Both officers can enforce any state law on campus and in the vicinity of the district, Minder said, including C.R. 24, C.R. 11 and C.R. 22. They can also go to bus stop locations or anywhere school property is involved, Minder said, adding he pulled over a driver near the high school Thursday for speeding in a school zone.
School staff has the ability to contact the officers for assistance through two-way radios, or call them directly on their cellphones. In an emergency situation, the Elkhart County dispatch center would notify the officers, Minder said.
They have also been giving presentations and educating students on topics pertaining to school safety and what to do in emergency situations. That law enforcement expertise was part of the plan when Concord decided to hire them, Assistant Superintendent Tim Tahara said, in addition to building relationships with students and staff.
"Our goal for them is to make sure each building sees one of our police officers at least once a week," Tahara said. "If there is a lockdown because something is unsafe in the building, we want them to practice that."
A state law changed in 2007 to allow school districts the option to keep the school resource officer strategy, or instead dump it and create their own in-house police department. The difference? Officers hired directly by those school districts work exclusively for the school and can't be pulled away for other incidents by their home department like SROs can, leading to limited availability.
Indiana Department of Education spokesman Adam Baker said Friday it is hard to gauge just how many schools are moving to a police department strategy as there is no reporting requirement to the state.
It is also difficult to determine the effectiveness of a school police department as few studies exist, despite school administrators touting the benefits of officers filling the roles of educator and informal counselor, in addition to law enforcer, according to a 2016 report released by the Indiana University Public Policy Institute, which reviewed the Indiana Public Schools police department.
However, school districts across the country continue to report an increase of crime on campus, according to survey responses from 2,000 U.S. schools during the 2015-16 school year. A report was released in July by the U.S. Department of Education.
About 39 percent of those schools reported at least one student threat of physical attack without a weapon, and 9 percent of schools reported such a threat with a weapon. Approximately 25 percent of the schools surveyed reported at least one incident of distribution, possession, or use of illegal drugs, according to the report. A higher percentage of middle schools studied reported bullying occurred daily or at least one a week compared with high schools.
The report references that schools with 1,000 or more students were more likely to use the services of an SRO at least once a week compared to a school district where less than 1,000 students are enrolled.
OTHER DISTRICTS CONSIDER IT
Fairfield Community Schools' enrollment is around 2,000, which is smaller than some of the surrounding school corporations. Superintendent Steve Thalheimer said the district continues to contract with the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department for one SRO officer that splits time at different school buildings.
Thalheimer said Fairfield too was investigated hiring its own police officer in the past year when Concord was holding similar discussions, but concluded it wasn’t the right time. Thalheimer said the SRO officer from the sheriff’s department continues to fill Fairfield’s need.
“As a smaller district, we simply don’t have the resources to do that,” Thalheimer said of hiring an officer full time.
Thalheimer hoped for the possibility of more officer availability now that some local schools have pulled out of the SRO program.
“We appreciate having someone here,” he said.
It’s the second year Middlebury schools has had its own full-time police officer in Jeremy Shotts. Like Concord, the district dumped its SRO model.
“We’re very happy with it,” Superintendent Jane Allen said. "The benefits are tremendous.”
Allen said Shotts continues to build relationships with the students, and like Concord, is focused on providing educational opportunities for staff and students.
Baugo Community Schools too utilizes the sheriff’s SRO program, and Wa-nee Community Schools in April extended its SRO agreement with the city of Nappanee. Elkhart Community Schools pays six off-duty Elkhart Police Department officers to work in the district each day, said Jamie Snyder, director of safety, security and risk management.
Tahara said Concord still has plans to add at least one more officer in the future. The plan is to have one officer per 2,000 students.
Minder and Tucker already had ties to Concord schools. Both are involved in coaching athletics, Minder's wife is a teacher within the district and Tucker's daughter attends school there.
Tucker said being a school police department is about reaching the students and intervening in their lives if they are struggling and guide them in the right direction.
So far, the majority of school staff and students have been welcoming, Minder said.
"We’re always trying to advance the safety and security of students," Minder said. "We want everyone in the district to see us and know who we are."
Adam Randall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-533-2151, ext. 308. Follow Adam on Twitter @adamrandall_TGN
New police officers reaching out to staff, students