A letter to the American public: What you need to know about school resource officers
It is critical the public understand the many ways school resource officers protect our children
By Patrick Chagnon
Since the death of George Floyd, we have seen a nationwide call for various law enforcement reforms. While the federal government has long faced the issue of police reform, what’s different about the current environment is that calls for reform now include a demand to reduce funding of police departments and to redirect that funding to social services within the community. One of the targeted cuts focuses on School Resource Officer (SRO) programs.
The Unintended Consequences
The call to increase funding for social service counselors in schools is a justifiable one, but will have negative consequences if done so by cutting police department budgets.
As advocates for students, counselors promote a positive environment that enhances the ability of students to manage the emotional demands of their lives and thus succeed in their academic pursuits.
In comparison to the role of a counselor, SROs overwhelmingly provide an added value not just to the school but also the community in which they serve.
John Hopkins University outlines the diverse role SROs play within the school community with their many duties and responsibilities and categorizes the SRO role into three major areas:
- The law enforcement officer.
- The law-related counselor.
- The law-related educator.
With the increasing demands for school security, there is an additional role. SROs are natural collaborators with school officials, parents and town officials on all matters relating to school safety and security. That task alone can be a full-time job for an SRO working in a large school district.
The Ultimate Community Representative
As a law enforcement officer, the school becomes the officer’s beat ‒ safeguarding a community within a community. The SRO assists the school administration in maintaining a safe and secure environment. School administrators benefit from the SRO’s training, knowledge and experience in handling situations involving possible weapons violations or in the identification of controlled dangerous substances. The SRO provides a highly visible presence to deter or identify trespassers on campus.
As a law-related counselor, the SRO is used to conducting street-level, law-related counseling. For example, a victim of domestic violence is given information on how to obtain a protective order, or an officer may attempt to mediate a dispute between two neighbors. Officers are frequently called upon to help resolve problems that are not necessarily criminal matters. Similarly, school counselors will often call upon the SRO to assist in conflict mediation efforts.
As a law-related educator, the SRO can serve as a resource for educators in the sharing of their experience and expertise when invited into the classroom as guest speakers. Classroom presentations by an SRO complement the school curriculum as well as allowing the SRO to interact with students and discuss law-related issues. The contact the SRO has with students in the classroom can be a very positive learning experience.
As a school safety and security practitioner, the SRO can take a tremendous burden off school officials by managing the daily task of school safety and security. After the tragic school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, many communities nationwide mandated enhanced school safety and security. This means not just relying on having a response plan, it means actively tracking potential threats and managing those threats well before they manifest into the unthinkable. A well-trained SRO can provide active threat analysis and school vulnerability assessments (SVA) on an ongoing basis. An SVA conducted by an external body typically averages about $8,000 per school. Having someone in house to conduct those can save a community thousands of dollars.
The value of SROs to our schools cannot be denied. Much like the community police officer working in a community policing unit, the effective measure of success is the absence of crime, reduction of fear and the building of trust within that community. Reducing funding from police departments and targeting specific programs like the SROs will only widen the gap between police and the community.
About the author
Patrick Chagnon is a retired law enforcement professional and a certified crime prevention specialist. He is the founder/owner of BLUELINE Security Consulting Group, LLC providing physical security assessments, online emergency management software tools and specialized training in asset protection. To learn more or to contact Mr. Chagnon, visit www.bluelineinfo.com.