Argument intensifies over police in schools

NOW: Argument intensifies over police in schools

SOUTH BEND, Ind.-- Black Lives Matter South Bend activist and former common councilwoman Regina Williams-Preston Wednesday, calling for the immediate end of the school resource officer or SRO program throughout South Bend Community schools. 

“Today is not about cops are good or cops are bad. Today is we have a laser focus on basic accountability for elected officials and district administrators in the south bend community school corporation,” Williams-Preston said. 

The demand comes after an incident caught on police body camera video of the CEO of the district’s Empowerment Zone, Dr. Cheryl Camacho, refusing to let a patrol officer do an unannounced walk-through of Coquillard Elementary. There is no school resource officer at Coquillard, and after the incident, Dr. Camacho and SBPD administrators agreed patrol officers must alert principals, and be escorted into schools during non-emergency visits. However, Black Lives Matter South Bend, wants to take the issue even further. 

“Remove police from schools now,” Williams- Preston said. 

“‘Removing officers from schools can only hurt our youth. We are there to protect them and that’s our primary goal,” South Bend FOP President Harvey Mills said. 

South Bend Fraternal Order of Police President Harvey Mills, disagrees, saying officers are not there to arrest or intimidate children. 

“Officers go into schools only to create a bridge between police and our youth and that’s what they stride to do. They don’t go there looking for people doing bad things so they can haul them off to jail or anything that’s not what they’re doing,” Mills said. 

Black Lives Matter claims the district is violating multiple Indiana state laws, including not having a Memorandum of Understanding or contract with the police department or the city. They also claim there is no explicit job description for SRO’s detailing the nature and scope of their duties, or documentation of those required 40 hours of training.  

“Teachers have a contract. School bus drivers have a contract. Paraprofessional, food service, consultants and community organizations are all required to have a contract before working in our schools. But school resource officers, who carry guns and tasers and detain, ticket, handcuff and interrogate and transport children in police cars, no contract,” Williams-Preston said. 

Superintendent Dr. Todd Cummings declined to go on camera, but disputed those claims in a statement to ABC57 saying quote: 

"The Corporation does have an MOU from the 2012-13 academic year, which, according to the district's legal counsel, is considered an “indefinite MOU,” lasting until one or both parties formally end the agreement. Chief Crittendon, Mayor Mueller and I have been in conversation and plan to update the current MOU (which was signed several superintendents ago). We are not exploring the removal of SROs from South Bend schools at this time.” 

The South Bend Police even created a new page on its website, laying out the Black Lives Matter claims refuting them and calling them misleading. They also include what appears to be a job description for school resource officers in the city. The department saying in a statement quote: 

“The last Memo of Understanding (MOU) signed was in 2012, 3-police chiefs ago. Since then, we have continued to collaborate with the South Bend School Corporation, but the MOU was not refreshed since there was a mutual understanding and expectation of the duties, obligations and training required of each School Resource Officer (SRO) and the associated costs.” 

They also dispute the activist's contention the SRO’s are not properly trained saying quote: 

“Each SRO received the required 40 hours of training, plus more. They get basic and advanced training. Also, the State School Resource Officer Association holds an annual conference that has additional training. Each year, we usually send one officer to that and that officer (or more) returns and shares the latest updates.” 

Mills, simply calling the BLM claims false. 

“It’s completely misleading, I think it’s 100 percent dangerous to even allude to police abolition in schools, it’s sad to even think that would even be a conversation that needs to be had,” Mills said. 

ABC57 did request a copy of the Memorandum of Understanding between the school corporation and the police department, but so far, there’s been no response to our formal request. We will continue to bring you the latest on this controversy, both on air and online. 

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