SALT LAKE CITY— Juvenile justice officials are working to clarify when and where school resource officers are supposed to step in and enforce law.
During a Tuesday meeting of the Legislature's Executive Offices and Criminal Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, members of the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice and the Division of Juvenile Justice Services described uncertainty among education officials on school resource officers' roles. Since the passage of HB239 earlier this year, school officials have been seeking clarity on when their resource officers are supposed to act.
Ron Gordon, director of the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, shared concerns expressed by educators, who wondered how resource officers would work within school settings.
"There are some school-based behaviors that can no longer be referred to law enforcement officers," Gordon said.
Changes made this year preclude resource officers from being asked to deal with students accused of class C misdemeanor or other lesser infractions, effectively drawing a line at where resource officers could be asked to step in.
Gordon said the commission has created a "school offense referral guide" to help school administrators and officers understand when law enforcement should act.
Gordon said the amendments also clarify guidelines for when offenses are to be resolved with a nonjudicial adjustment, rather than through juvenile courts.
"If they do fall under that mandatory (nonjudicial adjustment), then they are diverted from the judicial process," Gordon explained. "The individual has an opportunity to resolve it without appearing before a judge."
Gordon said state data shows youths who have used the nonjudicial adjustment process have had better chances of avoiding repeat offenses.
"The numbers in secure care, you can see, are declining as well," said Debbie Whitlock, deputy director for the Juvenile Justice Services. "We're seeing about a 27 percent decline there."