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School officers keeping busy

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Center Grove’s three full-time police officers spend much of their time investigating fights or other discipline problems and clearing traffic accidents.

Last year, the only local school police department received more than 400 calls, ranging from vehicle accidents to investigations and drug searches.

Of the 417 calls the police department received last year, 91 (about 22 percent) involved officers answering questions or investigating situations involving Center Grove students or staff. Typically the students or others involved were facing some kind of discipline at school or were arrested, according Johnson County dispatch reports and documents provided by Center Grove schools.

Center Grove officers also used Duxo, the police dog the department purchased last year, to conduct 20 searches of school buildings and parking lots. The police department investigated eight incidents in which someone at Center Grove had drugs, was dealing drugs or was under the influence of drugs, according to the reports and documents.

When Center Grove’s officers aren’t responding to calls, they regularly walk though the schools and talk with students during passing periods. The hope is that as the students and officers get to know each other, the students will start to trust the officers and let them know about issues, such as if a fight is about to break out.

Center Grove is the only local school district with its own police department and is the only Johnson County school district with officers patrolling its schools full time. Other central Indiana school districts with their own police departments include Indianapolis Public Schools, Franklin Township schools and Pike Township schools. Those school districts have between 8,600 and 29,800 students, while Center Grove has about 7,700 students, according to the Indiana Department of Education.

This year more than $153,000 is set to be spent on Center Grove’s security costs, including the salaries and benefits for the three

officers. That is the highest amount of any local school district. For example, Franklin schools budgets more than $34,000 in money received from the state for security, while Edinburgh has more than $6,000 budgeted.

Local schools have discussed spending more on security, including redesigning entrances and adding cameras and door buzzers. This school year, Center Grove, Clark-Pleasant, Franklin, Edinburgh and Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson schools all received grants from the state to pay for either security officers or upgrades such as locks, buzzers and cameras for their buildings. Center Grove received about $50,000 in grant money from the state.

Center Grove created the police department in 2008 after state lawmakers approved allowing school districts to have their own police forces. Until then the sheriff’s office had provided protection for Center Grove schools and responded any time there was a theft, car accident, fight or other disturbance. The police department had two officers for five years, and Center Grove hired a third officer last year after the shooting at

Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton, Conn.

School officials had wanted the police department to have at least three officers from the time it was first created, and adding the third position became a priority after the school shooting. Adding the officer costs Center Grove $47,500 more per year.

Last year the school district also purchased Duxo, for a cost of about $13,000, so that the police department could conduct drug searches more regularly. Purchasing Duxo was a way to deter students from having or using drugs at school because of the regular searches, Police Chief Ray Jackson said last summer.

The police department’s full-time officers carry firearms, have state-required police training and train with other area departments, including the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office. Because Center Grove has its own police department, that also means the sheriff’s office has more time and more employees to patrol other parts of the county, including other area schools, Sheriff Doug Cox said.

“The way I look at Center Grove, it’s kind of like a small city in itself. The fact that they have a police department of their own is a big plus for us,” Cox said.

Center Grove school officials would not respond to questions about the police department, beyond providing basic definitions about the calls officers received.

In Franklin, police officers patrol schools part time throughout the day. Officers and deputies from other local departments and the sheriff’s office also regularly stop by and walk through other school districts’ buildings to help keep them safe. Because the sheriff’s office spends less time at Center Grove, it has more time to spend at other schools in Johnson County, Cox said.

The sheriff’s office still responds to calls at Center Grove during the summer or if school is canceled and assists Center Grove police during other investigations. Earlier this school year, the sheriff’s office helped the police department investigate what had happened after iPads issued by the school district were found in a creek near a Center Grove area neighborhood.

“When they need us, we’ll be there for them,” Cox said.

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