School safety center pushed as part of DeWine’s criminal justice budget

By: - February 4, 2021 12:35 am

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. Photo a screenshot from the Ohio Channel.

As part of his criminal justice budget proposal, Gov. Mike DeWine wants to spend millions to fund a center monitoring threats to school safety.

On Wednesday, DeWine elaborated on budget recommendations specifically in the area of public safety. This includes $5 million going toward the Ohio School Safety Center, “which assists local schools with improving school safety through a holistic, solutions-based approach, and includes continued support for the Safer Ohio Schools Tip Line,” according to the executive budget “blue book,” released Tuesday.

The center was created via executive order by DeWine in August 2019, and housed within Ohio Homeland Security. It was part of initial attempts for DeWine to implement his Strong Ohio measures meant to prevent gun violence in response to a shooting in Dayton’s Oregon District. Strong Ohio as a whole failed to garner legislative support in the last General Assembly.

DeWine said in the last year, the center’s “K-12 threat scanning program” identified more than 8 million public social media posts related to Ohio schools. Artificial intelligence then sent school staff information on posts “indicative of unsafe, suspicious or harmful activity.”

“Actionable information such as bomb threats and threats of physical harm were then funneled back to local officials for intervention,” DeWine said Wednesday. “Again, trying to do something to fill a gap, something that is many times not being done.”

The group also reviews emergency management plans for schools, which included pandemic response plans.

The school safety center was created with existing resources, according to DeWine, but more money is needed in the next biennial budget to increase the reach of the programs.

“It will be our plan to invest in placing more school safety liaisons across the state to give schools localized, immediate support,” DeWine said. “We’d expand on the training, research and intelligence-gathering services that the center provides.”

DeWine didn’t respond when asked if he supported legislative efforts to allow local school districts to create firearms policies that could allow teachers and other school personnel to carry guns in school, but said his administration is “really beefing up” in-school security, again referencing the social media monitoring done through the school safety center.

The Department of Public Safety will be tasked with helping schools and local law enforcement through the Ohio School Safety Center “with a goal of significantly increasing the number of tips received from Ohio schools” on the center’s tip line, provided to schools who enroll in the service.

In the last General Assembly, a bill sponsored by Republican state Reps. Gayle Manning and Glenn Holmes and passed in November created a mandate for public schools to register with an anonymous reporting program, and requires that program to submit a number of reports to the Department of Education and the Department of Public Safety.

A line-item for “school safety” in the Department of Public Safety would go from $2.8 million in fiscal year 2020 to nearly $3.4 million in fiscal year 2022 and $3.45 million in FY 2023, according to the governor’s recommendations.

“School safety training grants” through the Ohio Attorney General’s Office would also see a boost under the proposal, going from $7.2 million in FY 2020 to $12 million in FY 2022 and the following fiscal year as well.

A line-item in the proposed Department of Education budget zeroes out “violence prevention and school safety” funding, for which the department received more than $75,000 in fiscal year 2019 and more than $138,000 in 2020.

In other items recommended in his criminal justice budget, DeWine wants to see funding go to every law enforcement agency in the state to fund the use of and training for body cameras, with smaller agencies taking priority when it comes to $10 million worth of grant funding included in his proposal. DeWine said he wants the grant funding to be dependent on the agency’s agreeing to state-accepted protocols when it comes to body cameras.

Other funding recommendations include continuations of the Recovery Ohio grant program to assist with substance abuse and mental health awareness, funding to major drug task forces and reimbursement of extradition costs to local police.

Expansions are planned under the proposal for the Office of Law Enforcement Recruitment, the Ohio Narcotics Intelligence Center, violent crime reduction grants and the Expedited Pardon Project, DeWine’s newest push to pardon those more than a decade removed from their initial convictions and with no new convictions.

When asked about gun control measures within the budget, the governor said he “would take a little quarrel with the term ‘gun control.'”

“Our goal is to control criminals, to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, particularly criminals who are repeat violent offenders,” DeWine said.



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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow (KY) Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.