GOP-led Senate bill would fund school cops

Photo credit Sen. Josh Terenzini Facebook page

By Guy Page

Seven Republican senators have introduced a bill to expand funding for school resource officers (SROs), A/K/A armed police officers assigned to local schools. S76 was introduced yesterday, a week after four Democratic and Progressive senators introduced S63, to ban school resource officers. 

Both bills are in the Senate Education committee. Gov. Scott said today he opposes a statewide ban. “I believe this is a local decision,” he said at today’s press conference. He approves the state’s practice of offering funding to school districts, but not requiring resource officers. 

S76 was announced yesterday at a Rutland press conference held by Mayor David Allaire and Rutland senators and co-sponsors Josh Terenzini and Brian Collamore. Judging by attendance at the press conference, S76 appears to enjoy strong support from local law enforcement. “Thank you to the Rutland City, Rutland Town, Castleton, Fair Haven, Middlebury, Killington police departments, the Rutland County Sheriff’s office, Fair Haven and Mill River schools, and all others who were there,” Terenzini said on his Facebook page. 

S76 allocates $1 million for school districts to apply for $50,000 grants, sets up a framework for hiring SROs, and prevents the State from prohibiting school districts to hire them. 

“The rural nature of Vermont’s communities could result in relatively slow response times for law enforcement when responding to life threatening incidents in schools,” S76 states. “During a life-threatening incident in a school, the safety of children and staff is imperative and schools without a school resource officer (SRO) on-site are at a severe disadvantage in responding in a timely manner.” It cites two examples of SRO intervention preventing potentially catastrophic school shootings:

  • On April 18, 2019 that a Louisville, KY SRO arrested an 18-year-old male student who was allegedly walking toward the school while armed with a loaded revolver in his front pocket and a full, 50-round box of ammunition.
  • On April 4, 2019, a 17-year-old male student allegedly made verbal threats in the presence of a St. Louis, Missouri SRO to “shoot up” the school. A gun was later found in the student’s backpack. 

The bill also notes that “ a first layer of defense in a school is added when an SRO is onsite during a serious incident. According to a report entitled ‘Ten Essential Actions to Improve School Safety’ issued by the COPS Office’s School Safety Working Group to the U.S. Attorney General in 2020 (report), school resource officers “may have a profound impact on the school’s ability to prevent targeted violence and other maladaptive behaviors.”

Other co-sponsors are Sens. Joe Benning (Caledonia), Randy Brock (Franklin), Russ Ingalls (Essex-Orleans), Corey Parent (Franklin), and Bobby Starr (Essex-Orleans). 

Taken together, three Vermont Senate bills would expel active-duty police from schools, limit suspensions of law-breaking students, and prevent off-duty cops and retired military carrying guns from responding to a school shooting.

In contrast to S76, S63 would expel SROS assigned to schools from Vermont public schools. Their presence leads to unacceptably high arrests – particularly of minorities – and feeds the “school-to-prison pipeline,” say its authors.

The presence of police in schools leads to too many arrests, and too many of the arrestees are minorities, says S.63, sponsored by Sens. Alison Clarkson (D-Windsor), Ruth Hardy (D-Addison), Chris Pearson (D/P Chittenden), and Anthony Pollina (P-Washington). The bill finds:

  • The presence of school resource officers (SROs) in schools leads to an increase in student referrals to law enforcement, arrests, and convictions, even for low-level offenses. 
  • A 2016 report on the nationwide school-to-prison pipeline found that a student’s referral to law enforcement for lower-level offenses is between 1.38 and 1.83 times higher for schools that have regular contact with SROs than those schools that do not have such contact.
  • Nationally, schools with law enforcement presence reported 3.5 times as many arrests as schools without law enforcement presence.

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