The Evansville Police Department (EPD) will have to adapt its procedures for school resource officers in response to an Indiana Supreme Court decision last week.
Lieutenant Karla Larmore oversees the department’s school resource officers. She isn’t exactly sure how the court’s decision in B.A. vs. State of Indiana will affect their protocols, but she said there will be one big change.
“Any interviews of students at school for disciplinary procedures and or criminal procedures is going to be considered a custody type of setting and applicable Miranda warnings for juveniles will apply.”
Officers previously did not have to inform students of their rights as long as the student was questioned by school officials for school disciplinary purposes only. Police would determine after the fact whether they needed to investigate.
Students must now be given their rights, or the officer must leave the room, if police believe they will have to investigate. This could happen if an officer thinks the student is about to self-incriminate, for example.
The case came about after a 13-year-old in Indianapolis said his rights were violated because officers did not read him his Miranda rights during questioning in the vice prinicpal's office. He was accused of writing a bomb threat on a bathroom wall. The state argued he was not actually in police custody so he did not did not need to be Mirandized. The Indiana Supreme Court ruled in the boy's favor and overturned the decision of the lower courts.
Larmore did not follow the case as it made its way through the courts, but she understands why the court ruled the way it did.
“I can see both sides of the issue, where if a student is called to a princpal’s office, they might not feel free to leave," she said. "I’m not surprised about the decision to be honest with you. I don’t think it’s going to create more difficulties. It’s just going to create a lengthier investigation for us.”
Three officers were present in B.A.'s questioning, which Larmore said would be rare in Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation (EVSC) schools. She said only one officer is typically present if school administrators deem it helpful.
The judges wrote in their decision that questions over students' constitutional rights have become more pressing because of a growing presence of police in schools. The EPD currently has five liason officers in local schools. This number does not include off-duty officers hired by the EVSC or members of the EVSC's own police force. A school district spokesman declined to disclose the number of those officers, citing safety protocol, but he wrote in an email that EVSC is also consulting lawyers to determine how to proceed after the court's decision.
The EPD will meet with judge Brett Niemeyer next month to determine what the court's decision means for their procedures.