SOUTH BEND – Amid ongoing discussions over whether police should be stationed at South Bend schools, the district is working with a private company that is recruiting police officersto fill a shortage of security guards.
District administrators say they are relying on a company they have used in the past, Trinity Protection Services, to temporarily fill shortages until the district can hire its own staff.
The company offered to pay officers on leave $ 50 an hour for their work in schools, according to records from the Mishawaka Police Department.
Trinity will recruit and employ security guards and bill South Bend schools for its services. The company has already contacted local law enforcement about the openings and has filled at least one position at Clay High School.
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“The safety, security and well-being of all students, staff and visitors to our school buildings is essential to our educational mission and remains our top priority,” said South Bend Superintendent Todd Cummings in a statement. “Although we initially requested additional security in each of our high schools, we are now focusing only on Clay High School for additional supervision due to security personnel issues there.”
School administrators say security personnel play a different role than law enforcement, who are placed in buildings as resource officers. But the owner of the security company working with South Bend Schools said the district had specifically requested that officers on leave be placed in the buildings.
These officers are armed with department-issued weapons and the company does not offer specific school-based training, the company owner told The Tribune.
The recruitment drive comes after activists this summer called for the removal of police from South Bend schools, and after several law enforcement agencies responded to a brawl at Clay High School last week.
“We have not resolved the debate on whether the presence of police in buildings really creates the safest environment possible,” said Oletha Jones, member of the South Bend School Board. “Using these recent incidents to move this agenda forward, I think, is premature and needs to be rethought. “
Private security company
Each high school in South Bend has positions allocated for eight to nine security personnel, Deputy Superintendent Brandon White said. This year, however, the company struggled to fill all the positions.
With the current shortages, White said in an email, between four and six security guards work at each school daily.
So, White said, the district turned to a private security firm to temporarily close the openings. White, who is the district’s assistant superintendent for academics, has overseen recent communications with the company.
He answered The Tribune’s questions for this story via email before making himself available for a 15-minute interview on Monday.
White only said that the company was called Trinity and that there was “a representative here in town that we work with.”
He also said the district has been using the company for at least two years “as a support for security needs,” at schools like Clay and Rise Up Academy.
White initially agreed to provide a reporter with the contact details of the company representative. He had not shared those details until The Tribune’s publication deadline on Tuesday.
The Tribune, however, was able to reach the security company on their own. On Tuesday afternoon, the owner of South Bend-based Trinity Protection Group said in an interview that his company was contacted a few weeks ago by schools in the city.
Neil Graber said his company previously placed an unarmed civilian security guard in an adult learning program run by South Bend Schools.
Responsibilities of the security guard are unclear
South Bend school administrators say the role of security personnel is different from that of resource officers, who are sworn police officers trained to serve in schools.
South Bend places five Resource Agents in his secondary buildings. Each belongs to a local police service, takes 40 hours of school-specific training and comes under a contract outlining their responsibilities.
The district is currently working with the City and the South Bend Police Department to revise the language of a nearly ten-year-old contract setting out expectations for school resource officers.
As for Trinity, district leaders say they are seeking student supervision services from the security company. White said the company’s workers would not act as police and the district had not specifically requested armed security.
But Indiana law gives sworn police officers, like those hired by Trinity, the power to make arrests anywhere in the state, whether on duty or off, the FOP president said. of South Bend, Harvey Mills.
“Police officers have 24/7 arrest powers throughout the state of Indiana,” Mills said. “Even in a school setting, their oath says they will follow the law and the Indiana Constitution. It is still their duty even if they are not on duty; they will simply be paid by a different entity.
In addition, the owner of Trinity said the officers on leave hired by his company carried weapons and equipment issued by the department and approved for after-hours use.
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Graber said his company was still recruiting officers to serve in schools. He declined to answer how many positions the district is looking to fill and how much the company is offering to pay officers on leave.
An email from the Mishawaka Police Department obtained by The Tribune via a request for public registration states: “Neil Graber is trying to fill several part-time positions for various schools in South Bend. At the moment the salary is $ 50. .00 $ and will be taxed through his security company. “
The email to officers in Mishawaka, dated October 18, 2021, further states: “Apparently work is scheduled for the remainder of this week but could take longer.”
Graber told The Tribune that officers employed by Trinity receive training from their respective police departments and that the company does not provide additional training for work in schools. The South Bend District is currently the company’s only school client, he said.
“Our main job is to get the kids out of the hallways, to wander the halls during school hours, to try to focus them and put them in the right place,” Graber said. “And we are giving a helping hand to the administration and the security personnel that they have already installed in the schools.”
The school district does not have a contract with Trinity, said White, the deputy superintendent, and company workers are following expectations set by building managers.
When asked if there are written responsibilities provided to Trinity employees, White said the district uses his job description for security.
Building security posts currently posted on the district’s employment page indicate that staff are “responsible for maintaining order and discipline, crime prevention, investigating violations of the student code of school board and student detention policies that violate law or school board policies on school or school property – sponsored events.
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The postings ask for “security experience in a public school”, but do not address the authority held by police officers on leave. These positions are advertised for a salary of $ 12.48 to $ 15.92 per hour.
“We partner with Trinity because they can provide us with trained people in supervision,” White said. “That’s all we ask for. That’s all we need at this point. Anything outside of this job description isn’t something we ask for or don’t want either.
It is not clear whether the security guards provided to South Bend schools would remain in the same buildings on a day-to-day basis as the district continues its search for employees.
“We would love to have the same person, but it’s not something that is explicitly stated,” White said.
Training questions, district focus
Mills, the president of the FOP, said he sees benefits in having security guards who maintain an open line of communication with officers nearby. He questioned, however, the amount of training these security guards receive.
“I would much prefer to have a dedicated officer because that officer would get to know the kids,” Mills said. “But, if there aren’t enough (school resource officers), I’m all for a time off officer working there.”
Jones said she and at least one other school board member were unaware of the district’s relationship with the private security company until last week.
She also said the district may be paying too much attention to security in response to the recent fighting without addressing the root causes of the fighting.
“I think there is more to consider,” Jones said. “Is it appropriate to have a greater police presence or do we need to have a more proactive approach? “
Jorden Giger, an organizer for the South Bend Chapter of Black Lives Matter, questioned whether seeking the services of a private security firm was the best use of the money as the district’s own administrators continue to highlight the importance of reducing expenses.
“Why would you invest more money in policing when you already promised you were going to invest in additional support for students and teachers? Giger asked.
Tribune journalist Marek Mazurek contributed to this story.
Email Carley Lanich, South Bend Tribune education reporter, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @carleylanich.