Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias When did members of the Vermillion Police Department become such scary, scary individuals?

People reading recent news and opinion pages of the Plain Talk have received significant doses of commentary from individuals expressing their disdain at the notion of placing a full-time resource officer in the Vermillion Schools.

That trend continues in today's paper.

The picture that has been painted lately isn't a pretty one. It's as if allowing a police officer in a school is akin to letting a ghoul loose to roam the halls, to dart out suddenly and scare our kids out of their wits, or to drag them away to a secret lair, never to be seen again.

We've heard a lot lately about why police shouldn't be in schools. And frankly, some of the reasons cited make sense.

We are a small, close-knit, safe community. If anyone wanted to film a remake of the classic movie It's a Wonderful Life, they could come to Vermillion.

We're a stable community. What can't be ignored, however, is the fact that people who lived in Littleton thought they were dwelling in a little corner of paradise, too.

And so did the residents of Conyers, GA, Springfield, OR, Fayetteville, TN, Edinboro, PA; Jonesboro, AK; West Paducah, KY and Pearl, MS.

Does this mean that Vermillion will someday be in the news because it, too, will have experienced a school shooting?

Probably not. But who can say for sure?

Can a school resource officer provide absolute protection to students and staff in a school setting? Of course not.

But while there's been much wringing of hands about the terrible precedent that police in the schools would set here, no one seems willing to mention that:

* School resource officers are already working in schools across the nation, using a proactive approach to deal with the pressures confronting today's young people such as alcohol, drug, and tobacco use, peer pressure, gang activity and sex.

* Just as students strike up close relationships with teachers, administrators, counselors and coaches, you can bet that students in the Vermillion school system will develop a rapport with a school resource officer. The result will be a mutual understanding between law enforcement and our youth for each individual's ideas, thoughts and opinions. It is easy to imagine an officer building a sense of confidence and trust in the students by answering their questions in an honest, truthful, unbiased and non-defensive manner.

* A school police officer likely will be a positive role model for students, while at the same time being a resource for parents, staff, administration, and students in regards to law enforcement and community problems.

Opponents of police officers in schools are quick to point out that they will send the wrong message to students. How? Will it be the same message uttered by an adult who has ever cursed in front of his kids after an officer has ticketed him for speeding? Will it be the same caustic utterances a child is likely to hear from a parent whose car is ticketed and towed by police because it is blocking snow removal following a blizzard? Will it be the negative messages voiced by some parents who claim that police are constantly "picking" on our teenagers? They just won't let them have any fun. They go so far as making arrests when some teens try to throw beer parties (and in all fairness, it must be pointed out that some of the teens arrested for this offense are university, not high school students).

No wonder it's become so easy to make a police officer sound like a bogeyman that will darken our school's halls. So many of us adults already put police in such a negative image.

The Vermillion City Council will be addressing this issue June 21. Besides taking all of the above into consideration, it would be wise for them to abandon a particular argument that's been voiced in opposition to school resource officers.

A likely funding source for school officers is a federal COPS grant, which would provide 75 percent of the officer's total salary and benefits for three years. Opponents note there's no such thing as a free lunch.

It could also be argued that those federal funds are our funds. If we don't use them, some other community will. Rejecting the grant would also be a bit hypocritical, when you consider that all entities of local government usually try their best to get their hands on as many federal dollars as possible to ease local taxes.

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