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portage school safety

Portage Police Chief Troy Williams talks earlier this year with teachers and others about dealing with a potential school shooter.

Portage Township Schools will no longer have full-time Portage police officers serving as school resource officers.

The School Board on Wednesday approved a new school safety and security plan which includes several initiatives, including school-based mental health counseling, monitoring of student electronic devices for any threatening or self-harming language, expanding the bullying hotline and adoption of restorative justice principles.

Superintendent Amanda Alaniz said instead of having Portage officers serve as SROs, they are moving to a collaborative partnership with Portage, Porter County and Indiana State police.

"This will allow us to look at a multiple jurisdictional approach," she said, adding at "any one time" there could be 10-plus SROs working for the district.

Portage presently has two officers working as full-time SROs — one in the high school and one split between the two middle schools. The funding for the officers is split between the city and the school district.

Police Chief Troy Williams recently announced a plan that would add two additional Portage officers as SROs without any additional cost to the schools.

Alaniz said the district will take applications from officers from the three departments to work part-time in the schools and the officers will be paid by the district. She said Portage officers are invited to apply for the part-time positions.

The plan, however, drew criticism.

Portage Patrol Capt. Mike Candiano, who served as an SRO at Portage High School for four years, said the plan may provide security for the schools, but part-time personnel won't allow officers to build relationships with students.

"Security is a small part of this," he said. "You are effectively removing our officers and the relationships we have with students. Paying a part-time guy, it will be a part-time job. They won't be invested in the schools."

Williams, who announced last month he is running for the School Board seat now held by Cheryl Oprisko, said the department has had SROs in the schools since 1999, including himself.

He said the schools and department have had a close relationship and recently took steps to improve security, including instructing staff in active shooter scenarios, changing policy on response to fire alarms and providing police radios at all buildings.

"Full-time SROs build better relationships with students," he said, adding this is taking a step backwards as other departments, such as Hobart and Valparaiso, have added SROs.

School Board President Andy Maletta abstained in the vote, saying he works for the city and didn't believe he should vote on a matter involving employment of city police officers.

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Porter County Reporter

Joyce has been a reporter for more than 38 years, including 23 years with The Times. She covers municipal and school government in Valparaiso and Portage.