INDIANAPOLIS — Most elementary schools in central Indiana do not have their own School Resource Officer, or SRO, WRTV Investigates has learned.
The school police officers who responded to the Robb Elementary School shooting in Texas have faced criticism for their slow response—19 children and two teachers died in the Uvalde shooting.
The tragedy has increased conversations and scrutiny surrounding the presence of school police and school resource officers in Indiana.
Most elementary schools don’t have their own SRO
Most elementary schools in Indiana do not have their own school resource officer.
That’s the case in Avon where Chase Lyday is the chief of police for the Avon School Police Department.
Lyday declined to disclose exactly how many school resource officers are assigned to each Avon building.
“Our staffing plan is evolving and reevaluating needs,” Lyday said.
He says a big part of his job is getting to know students.
“Sometimes there's this view that school resource officers are just sitting around waiting on something to happen,” Lyday said. “The essence of what an SRO does is finding kids and building relationships with them."
Lyday is also the president of the Indiana School Resource Officers Association.
He said it would be ideal for every school to have its own SRO.
“We would love to see that,” Lyday said. “For communities and schools that have those resources, we would love to see that. That's certainly best."
WRTV Investigates asked why more schools in Indiana are not putting officers in their elementary schools.
“Resources determine the capacity,” Lyday said. “We simply don't have the funds or manpower available for one SRO in every school. There are some communities who have that luxury, but not all do."
WRTV Investigates found Noblesville Schools is one of the few districts in central Indiana that has an SRO at each elementary school.
Carmel Clay Schools will also have an SRO at every school for the 2022-2023 school year.
“Starting next year, we will complete our three-year plan for our safety referendum to have at least one SRO in every building, as well as in-school mental health providers,” Emily Bauer, director of community relations for Carmel Clay Schools, said in an email to WRTV.
Carmel Clay is using a $40 million safety referendum to fund the officers, said Bauer.
Noblesville is also using a referendum to pay for school resource officers at its schools.
“Yes- we have SROs full time at every school,” Marnie Cooke, director of communications for Noblesville Schools, said. “This was one of the over 50 safety enhancements funded by our community thanks to our 2018 referendum.”
Muncie updates SRO plan amid criticism
The same day as the Robb Elementary School shooting in Texas, on May 24, Muncie Community Schools announced it is partnering with private security firm Legacy Life Security Solutions.
The initial plan stated:
- Three SROs will serve Muncie Central High School
- Two SROs will serve Northside Middle School
- Two SROs will serve Southside Middle School
- One SRO will serve the district's six elementary schools on a rotating schedule
The initial proposal has faced criticism including from the Delaware County prosecutor, Eric Hoffman.
“Thousands of young people's lives are at risk,” Hoffman said. “That to me is unacceptable. In this day and age, our priority should be to protect."
Hoffman is concerned about preventing school shootings.
“The disturbing fact is that they're happening in elementary schools and we can't turn a blind eye to it,” Hoffman said. “If you don't have school security it should be number one on your list. If you don't have it, you have nothing. You don't have a safe environment."
WRTV told Hoffman most elementary schools do not have their own SRO in Indiana.
“I think the norm has to change,” Hoffman replied.
WRTV also asked Jay Dotson, a former Muncie Police Department reserve officer, who owns a company that trains people on active shooter situations.
“You need to protect those elementary schools just as much as the high schools,” Dotson said. “I know a lot of times they put the school resource officer resources to the higher level, because the older children because there's physical fights and things like that. But as we've seen recently elementary schools are vulnerable. I think we need to protect all of them equally. "
WRTV Investigates took their concerns to Muncie Community Schools.
To our surprise, they told us they plan to add more SROs for elementary schools.
“We are now increasing the security force by two more team members,” Andy Klotz, a spokesperson for Muncie Community Schools, said. “So, we will actually have more security than what we've had in our schools."
Klotz said a community partner stepped up to provide funding for the extra officers.
The total cost of using the outside security firm is $675,000 a year.
"To have every school have an SRO, that can be a difficult chore, but we are on the path to getting there,” Klotz said. “We are very close to being able to having that one-to-one relationship in our elementary schools. We are getting there."
The National Association of School Resource Officers recommends that every school have “at least one carefully selected, specially trained school resource officer.”
The association has also recommended schools have at least one SRO for every 1,000 students.
Muncie will have 11 total officers for its 5,000 students, which is well beyond the recommendation.
“We are well over the nationally recommended amount of SROs,” Klotz said. “We think we are being proactive, open-minded and aggressive in our approach to school safety and school security. We know it’s the number one concern and you don’t want to send your child to a school that isn’t safe and we believe we have a safe as school system as anywhere is this.”
Not all support more SROs in schools
Heather Hilbert is a Westfield mother concerned about school safety, but she’s conflicted about SROs in elementary schools.
“We know that black brown and LGBTQ students are having issues with SROS and use of force, so I have a conflicted opinion about that,” Hilbert said. “In elementary schools, I do have a problem with armed officers being around young children. Having that security presence at all times it is traumatic for kids.”
Black students in Indiana schools are arrested at higher rates than white students, according to federal data analyzed by WRTV Investigates.
State data shows black students make up 12% of the state’s student population, yet comprise 26% of arrests on school property.
This School-to-Prison Pipeline in Indiana study shows students who get in trouble in school are more likely to end up in the criminal justice system.
Hilbert is also a volunteer with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
“I think we sometimes forget that a five, six, seven-year-old, is not used to being around someone in a bulletproof vest and a firearm on their side... that can be traumatic for them,” Hilbert said.
Some research shows having armed police does not prevent school shootings.
A 2021 study conducted by researchers at the University at Albany and RAND looked at data from U.S. schools between 2014 to 2018 to evaluate the impact of school resource officers. It found that SROs “do effectively reduce some forms of violence in schools, but do not prevent school shootings or gun-related incidents.”
What you can ask as a parent
Here’s what you can ask as a parent:
- What does our school’s security look like?
- Do we have armed officers, and if so, how many? What type of training do they have?
- How will I be notified if there is an emergency?
- What is our school’s use of force policy?
- If students are evacuated, how will I be notified and where will I pick up my child?
- Does the building itself have any security systems in place?
- How can my child report a tip or a possible threat?