Richmond Community Schools is creating its own police department and will no longer have school resource officers (SROs) overseen by Wayne County Sheriff’s Office.
Superintendent Curtis Wright recommended the school board not renew its memorandum of understanding with the sheriff’s office that provided one officer each for Richmond High, Test, Dennis and Community Youth Services buildings after July 31.
Board members voted 5-2 for the change during their June 14 meeting. Aaron Stevens and Stacy Mopps voted no.
WCSO has managed RCS’ SRO program for more than 20 years.
RCS’ resolution says that legislation “creates an opportunity to achieve greater coordination of the various individuals supporting student and staff safety and premises security.”
The Indiana legislature recently made changes to how funds designated for school safety may be used, and to requirements for how school corporations manage their safety plans.
Stevens, a Richmond Police Department officer, said he wouldn’t support formation of a new police force for several reasons, including a short timeline of less than two months to organize RCS’ department.
Stevens said the SRO role isn’t something that can be learned overnight, even for trained officers, and a perfect fit is necessary. RCS must find officers who are dedicated to children instead of being driven by a badge, because those relationships might save a child’s life, he noted.
RCS’ resolution creates a Chief of Police position to be supervised by the superintendent and/or designee. It notes that all RCS police personnel must be certified and trained by Indiana Law Enforcement Training Board.
Sheriff Randy Retter told WWN that the letter he received from Wright on June 9 notifying him of the intended change was very complimentary about WCSO’s management. That letter, expressing gratitude for “outstanding service,” can be found on RCS’ website as part of the materials for the June 14 meeting.
Wright said the program’s greatest successes were probably found in the intangible interpersonal connections that have developed among many SROs and students.
“An SRO is much more than a person in a uniform,” Retter said. “They’re there to develop relationships with kiddos in schools, and those relationships foster so many positive things it’s almost immeasurable.”
Retter said relationships built with students can impact the entire community. If students trust officers, they can inform them about potential threats before they happen.
RCS’ SROs were employed by the school district but deputized and trained by Retter. WCSO provided the SROs’ vehicles and equipment.
Retter said WCSO still has a strong partnership with Northeastern schools, and WCSO is actively looking for ways to enhance the program.
In addition to already being part of Indiana Sheriffs’ Association’s school safety committee, Retter was appointed this year to National Sheriffs’ Association’s school safety committee.
Retter is also co-chair of Wayne County School Safety Commission that includes representatives from all five Wayne County public school districts as well as various organizations serving youth.
He said legislative changes are requiring schools to do more in terms of safety, and he looks forward to working with that commission to help all local districts.
A version of this article appeared in the June 21 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.