JEFFERSON CITY - School districts could commission their own full-time police officers under a bill the Missouri House passed Wednesday.
The bill would allow any school district to authorize and commission its own police officers. Current state law has a very narrow provision that only allows school districts in a city with a population between 48,000 and 49,000 residents to create their own police forces. The officers have to be licensed peace officers and existing state law limits their jurisdiction to school premises, activities and buses. Sexual offenses and crimes involving the threat or use of force are still referred to local police.
Bill sponsor Sheila Solon, R-Blue Springs, said her hometown's school district is the only one in the state with a police force. She said having full-time police officers would keep school districts from being subject to city budget issues. According to the Blue Springs School District website, the first-of-its-kind school police force formed in 2009.
Rep. Karla May, D-St. Louis, told KOMU 8 News she thought the current bill's intent was admirable, but she thought letting school districts create their own police departments would make accountability an issue. She said a better idea would be for schools to work closely with local police departments.
School officials were ambivalent toward the bill, saying their school boards would have to decide whether it was worth it to hire full-time police officers. Southern Boone School District Superintendent Charlotte Miller told KOMU 8 News her school district would most likely stick with its current policy of using a school resource officer provided by the Boone County Sheriff's Department. She said the district would have to study its policies and procedures before deciding whether to create its own police force.
Blair Oaks R-2 superintendent Jim Jones said the biggest consideration school districts would have in deciding whether to hire their own police is the trade-off between resources available and response times for emergencies. Jones said resources and emergency response times differ for every school district in the state.