Court: Define role of school resource officer

2013-02-25T00:00:00Z 2013-02-25T13:53:03Z Court: Define role of school resource officerDan Carden, (317) 637-9078
February 25, 2013 12:00 am  • 

INDIANAPOLIS | The Indiana Supreme Court on Friday asked the General Assembly to clarify whether school resource officers -- off-duty police employed by schools for security and discipline purposes -- are engaged in law enforcement duties.

The answer will determine whether students can be charged with the crime of resisting law enforcement. That charge requires a police officer be acting in a law enforcement capacity when a person intentionally and forcibly resists, obstructs or interferes with the officer.

The Indiana Court of Appeals last year ruled school resource officers are not acting in a law enforcement capacity when they work off-duty at a school. That decision overturned a delinquency finding against a Marion County child.

In its 5-0 ruling, the Supreme Court set aside that decision and instead determined the child wasn't delinquent because he was not "forcibly" resisting the officer as the law requires.

The state's high court then urged the Legislature to decide whether, given the increased focus on school safety in the wake of several recent shootings, school resource officers should be considered police officers engaged in law enforcement duties.

At the same time, the court said it was wary of possibly violating the U.S. Constitution by allowing a resource officer to search a student's locker for school discipline purposes and then immediately arrest the child for committing a crime.

"Not only is such a policy judgment about the changing role of school officers best reserved to a politically responsive branch of government, it would be less likely than common law to cause unintended Fourth Amendment consequences," wrote new Justice Loretta Rush in her first opinion for the court.

Legislation co-sponsored by state Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, and state Sen. Jim Arnold, D-LaPorte, that provides up to $15 million in matching grants for schools to hire more resource officers is set for a vote by the full Senate today or Tuesday.

It is Senate Bill 1, a bill number typically reserved for what Senate leaders consider the most important legislation of the session.

But any changes to the proposal as a result of the Supreme Court's decision will likely have to be made by the House, since the measure has already advanced beyond the amendment stage in the Senate.

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