Bill allowing schools to create security forces prompts discussion of current resource officers

With only 20 no votes, the Missouri House of Representatives last week sent the Senate a proposed law that would let school districts hire their own police resource officers.

If the Senate agrees with the plan and Gov. Jay Nixon signs it into law, Cole County Sheriff Greg White said Friday, “My preference is that they not (hire their own), because we’re better off in a situation where there’s a separation.”

White — who once served as a school resource officer at Jefferson City High School — noted that school districts and law officers sometimes have different viewpoints, and a law officer who is independent of the district can enforce the laws better than a district employee.

Jefferson City Police Chief Roger Schroeder generally agreed.

“We have enjoyed an extraordinarily positive and constructive relationship with the JC School District for over 15 years,” Schroeder said Friday. “If the law is adopted ... our strong preference is to continue serving the school district and our youth in the same context as we have.”

Blair Oaks Superintendent Jim Jones said he didn’t think passing the law would make much difference to the Cole County district.

“We have a great relationship with the Cole County Sheriff’s Department and the Cole County Commission,” he said. “We are constantly evaluating our situation to determine if, and when, additional personnel and/or programming may be needed to meet our needs.”

State Rep. Sheila Solon, R-Blue Springs, said her bill is part of efforts to make schools safer after the Connecticut elementary school shooting that killed 20 children.

The legislation includes a provision that would require resource officers to undergo training for a school intruder scenario.

White said using law officers as the resource officers takes care of that issue, because they already get regular training.

He considers an SRO to be better than a separate security force, “because they build relationships, they’re embedded with not just the faculty and staff but, certainly, with the students — and they function in mentoring, as a problem-solver and in building on the educational environment.”

And, he added, “They certainly function as that law enforcement presence, that initial defensive posture for the school district.”

Schroeder said the current school resource officer program “serves as a direct and constructive conduit between the school district and the police department. That consistent, effective line of communication would be broken with little corresponding benefit” if the Jefferson City district decided to have its own security force.

Schroeder added: “The wheel is not broken in Jefferson City, so it doesn’t need fixing.”

Jones noted just having Deputy Ralph Lemongelli serving as the Blair Oaks SRO “leads to the prevention of undesirable behaviors and events. Secondly, he is a part of our overall educational system, (leading) efforts to educate both students and adults about decisions that lead to the best and safest schools possible.”

White said lawmakers’ discussion is good, because it’s meant to “create the best learning environment, and ensuring that environment is safe.”

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