Springfield, IL – A group of Illinois lawmakers have endorsed a plan to only provide extra money to schools who agree to eliminate their school resource officer positions.
The funding would allow schools to hire more behavioral therapists and social workers, State Representative Emanuel “Chris” Welch said, according to the Associated Press.
“This increased presence of law enforcement in schools does not necessarily enhance school safety,” Sargent Shriver Center for Poverty Law representative Michelle Mbekani-Wiley said.
“Instead it dramatically increases the likelihood that students will be unnecessarily swept into the criminal justice system often for mere adolescent or disruptive behavior,” Mbekani-Wiley said.
Welch’s proposed school safety plan has the backing of 16 other Illinois House Democrats, and would provide schools with an incentive to eliminate school resource officers by giving funding for mental health resources.
Schools who promise to ditch their school resource officers would also qualify to apply for an optional grant, opening up the possibility of further funding yet.
The proposed legislation clashes with Attorney General Jeff Session’s school safety plan, which aimed to prioritize grants to states who vowed to use the funding to increase law enforcement’s presence in schools, FOX News reported.
Former president of the Illinois School Resource Officer Association (SROA), Deputy Kip Heinle, estimated that Illinois currently had approximately 500 officers who worked in the state’s schools.
He argued that school resource officers were “the best line of defense to keep students safe in school, “and that they also act as mentors and informal counselors for many youth they encounter, the Associated Press reported.
During his time with the SROA, Deputy Heinle said he was “fielding two to three phone calls a day” from school officials who wanted to know how they could add more officers to their school grounds.