‘School police’ bill heard in Mo. Senate committee

The Missouri House said three weeks ago it likes the idea, and Wednesday afternoon, the state Senate’s Education Committee was asked to OK a bill letting public school districts hire their own police officers.

“It could be one of the ways that we can ensure the safety of our schools and our students,” state Rep. Sheila Solon, R-Blue Springs, told the senators, noting that, since 2009, “the Blue Springs School District is the only school district in the state that has been allowed by state law to hire its own police officers.”

That has worked well, she said, with the district now employing 11 officers, “and they’re getting ready to hire six more.”

Her bill doesn’t require all school districts to create their own police forces.

Earlier this month, Cole County law officers and school officials said they preferred using local officers in the schools as “resource officers,” sharing the costs between the school district and the agency that employs the officer.

Solon noted any district that wants to have its own police must have a memorandum of understanding with the local law enforcement agencies.

“All crimes involving a sexual offense or any felony involving a threat of force shall remain under the authority of the local jurisdiction,” Solon said.

Former Jackson County Sheriff Tom Phillips is the Blue Springs district’s Public Safety executive director.

The 35-year sheriff’s department veteran said the arrangement “has allowed us to have a vested interest, with these officers in the district — (while) most school resource officers who work for municipalities, at the end of the school day go home, or they have to go to other duty jobs.”

The Blue Springs school police “actually do home visits (and) talk to parents and the students,” Phillips told the lawmakers. “We work with our social workers, psychologists and all the other people who are involved in the education process.”

Having a school-based police force is like “dressing for our Missouri winters,” he said. “The more layers you put on, the more protection you have.”

Henry County Sheriff Kent Oberkrom, this year’s Missouri Sheriffs Association president, told the committee the idea “certainly gives school districts an option.”

Mike Reid, lobbyist for the Missouri School Boards Association, said his group likes the bill because districts can choose whether to sign on, or not.

“We think some districts will want to do this (and) will be very happy with it,” Reid said. “I’m not quite sure it fits every school district (and) I think in some of the rural areas, it may not be a good fit.

“But this helps.”

Carol Weatherford, Eldon, now works for the Missouri National Education Association, after retiring from the Blue Springs district.

She said she surprised herself when she testified, as an individual and retiree.

“This was a very positive situation that we had there — one that, quite honestly, I think I took for granted.

“I didn’t realize how unique it was,” Weatherford told the senators. “They were wonderful, to help me with certain specific situations.

“They were respected by the staff and by students.”

The committee took no action Wednesday on deciding if the full Senate should debate the House-passed measure.

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