Ind. school paying off-duty cops for security due to staffing shortage

The officers would serve a "temporary role" that would be separate from existing school resource officers, officials said

By Carley Lanich
South Bend Tribune, Ind.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — South Bend school leaders told The Tribune this week that they are looking to fill security staffing shortages with the help of a private security company.

They stressed that security staff placed in schools would be separate from their existing school resource officers — whose responsibilities are currently being reviewed as a part of a nearly decade-old contract — and, they said, the security staff would not be making arrests.

But the owner of Trinity Protection Group, a local company that employs off-duty police officers and civilian staff to serve clients' security needs, said the district directly requested help finding off-duty police for placement in South Bend schools.

Further, the company's owner said these individuals would carry department-issued weapons and receive only the training these officers are provided by their local police departments. Trinity Protection Group does not provide additional training specific to school settings, Trinity owner Neil Graber said.

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The company has offered to pay off-duty officers $50 an hour for their work in schools, records from the Mishawaka Police Department show.

While the district has not received its first invoice for recent requests, assistant superintendent Brandon White said in a Wednesday afternoon interview that he expects the district will be invoiced $60 an hour by the company.

White said Trinity has placed no more than one or two staff members to help fill three to four positions at Clay High School.

Trinity is still recruiting to place officers in the South Bend high school, its owner said, and the district is actively interviewing for its open security staff positions.

Though positions are posted for each South Bend high school and the district's Rise Up Academy, White said administrators do not currently expect to place Trinity-employed staff in other South Bend buildings.

"We had a greater number of vacancies or absences (at Clay)," White said. "The other buildings are not seeing as much of a gap in their security staff as Clay is currently."

This comes the same week as several law enforcement agencies responded to a fight on Oct. 19 at Clay High School.

The district first contacted Trinity Protection Group as early as Oct. 11 to help fill shortages in security staff, White said. South Bend schools, like districts across the country, have been working to fill open positions in teaching, transportation and substitute positions amid nationwide hiring shortages.

A Mishawaka Police Department email obtained by the Tribune through a public records request was sent to officers on Oct. 18.

" Neil Graber is trying to get several part time positions filled for various South Bend Schools," the message reads. "As of now the pay is $50.00 and will be taxed through his security company. ... Apparently, the job is scheduled for the rest of this week but may go longer."

White and another South Bend administrator recently in contact with Trinity Protection Group, Diamond Robinson, disputed that the district directly requested off-duty officers.

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They say, instead, the corporation asked for security staff who could be available on short notice. They believe Trinity reached out to local police to serve in schools off-duty because police officers already have completed background checks needed to work with South Bend schools.

"If we were going to allow a civilian into our building, they would have to go through our background check and that would take a lot of time," White said. "So, when we requested that we needed this ASAP to support Clay, (Trinity) probably only turned to off-duty police officers."

South Bend administrators have been quick to emphasize the Trinity-supplied staff are temporary and not an extension of the district's school resource officer program.

SROs, they say, are sworn police officers who, by law, receive 40 hours of training specific to working in school settings. Their responsibilities are outlined in an agreed upon contract between the local departments and the school corporation.

The district is currently working with city and South Bend Police Department to revise the language of its existing contract entered during the 2012-13 school year.

Security staff, however, are used to help provide additional supervision of students in schools.

In South Bend, these individuals are generally civilians asked to monitor common areas like hallways and cafeterias and to work with SROs, should their presence be needed.

Security staff employed directly by South Bend schools have been given anti-bias training and will receive additional crisis prevention and intervention training, White said.

"Our security staff is because our high schools have almost 1,000 students and then almost 200 staff members in them," White said. "So any building in our community that houses 1,200 people in them in a day, I think we want to make sure that we have adequate supervision and security to help keep those schools being healthy and safe learning environments."

The district is not considering increasing the number of trained SROs in its buildings, White said, while it still navigates the language of a new contract with local police.

Off-duty officers, however, may be placed in schools by Trinity Protection Group until the district is able to hire its own security staff.

Trinity's owner told The Tribune these officers do not receive any training to serve in school settings beyond what is provided by their local departments and that the company does not keep a contract with South Bend schools outlining off-duty officers' responsibilities. Instead, Graber said, those officers are expected to follow their client's policies.

"We are working on providing crisis prevention and intervention training, but those are all things that are in the works for our own security staff," White said. "We would not invest in doing that for a company that we only want to use in a very temporary basis."

White said the temporary staff are expected to follow the district's Student Code of Conduct, recently renamed the Shared Rights and Responsibilities, as well as the job description for building security. Neither specifically address the role of off-duty police.

The assistant superintendent said this is because the role of staff provided by Trinity Protection Group is intended to be for only "a very short interim."

Clay's principal has interviewed and is expected to move forward soon with recommendations for security staff.

"We may be, in the next week or two, where we would no longer even need Trinity's services," White said.

Building security positions currently posted to the South Bend schools website advertise pay $12.48 to $15.92 per hour.

Their responsibilities, according to a job description posted to the district's employment page, include "maintaining order and discipline, preventing crime, investigating student code violations of school board policies, and detaining students violating the law or school board policies on school property or at school-sponsored events."

South Bend employed security staff do not include off-duty officers and, White said, he does not expect the district will hire off-duty officers to fill its openings.

"Our district is committed to doing whatever we can in our power to keep students safe so they can be focused on learning and that include making sure we have supervision in place properly," White said.

Tribune reporter Marek Mazurek contributed to this story.

(c)2021 the South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Ind.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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