Where do the responsibilities of a School Resource Officer begin and end? Typically, today’s SRO is a law enforcement officer trained to maintain security in schools. Often employed by a local police department or sheriff’s office and funded through law enforcement budgets, SROs are generally considered by schools and communities to be equivalent to a police presence within the school environment.
Since the 1950s when the first school-based law enforcement programs were launched, they have become widespread throughout the country. Between 1997 and 2003, the number of SROs grew from 9,400 to 14,337 – an increase of 52 percent. By 2012, there were more than 10,000 SROs, working in 40 percent of American schools, mostly middle and high schools. But is a “resource officer” the same thing as a “police officer?” And is policing students the best use of this staffing?
Providing Better Resources for Students
Students in the middle school or high school environment have many stressors in their lives. For some of them, school is a safe haven from a difficult home life. For others, it is the center of their social world with all the pressures of the teen years. Many students are struggling with issues ranging from (and beyond) mental health, bullying, peer pressure and poverty. When a young person is continually experiencing that kind of stress, they may act out in a number of ways at school. Depending on how they are handled, their actions could be the beginning of a lifelong negative pattern of behavior – or the beginning of a positive and nurturing relationship with caring adults that helps them learn to make better choices.
To make the latter into reality for more students, the presence of School Resource Officers provides an opportunity to offer a vital array of supportive services to students. By building honest trusting and trusted relationships with all students across socioeconomic, ethnic and racial groups, the SRO can help to create bridges between students and school administration, mental heath agencies, social services and other support organizations. These are the kinds of resources that keep all students safer, both in school and at home – something that can change the direction of a student’s life for the better.
How SROs can Prevent School Violence
Creating relationships of trust pays dividends in the other direction as well. When students trust their School Resource Officers, they are more likely to tell them if there is a known threat at school. Students often know when another student is planning an attack at school. Whether it is through social media posts, conversations in the hallways or the gossip pipeline, usually it is the other students who are first and most aware that one of their peers is showing signs that they are engaging or about to engage in risky behavior. Yet they may be afraid for a number of reasons to inform any adult or figure of authority about the growing threat to that student’s, and other students’, safety.
From Proactive to Reactive: Making a Difference in an Emergency
Leading active shooter drills and training exercises is an important part of ensuring the school population is prepared for an incident. The SRO should take a primary role in these drills to keep students and staff on track and engaged, and to help maximize comprehension and readiness. The federal government supports this type of training program, and it is a key element in making sure your school is as safe as possible.
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Even with the most diligent program for preventing school violence, there is always the possibility that your school will experience an emergency. Should this happen, the SRO becomes a first line of defense in minimizing the risk to students, staff and others. This is where their extensive training in law enforcement response, along with their personal bravery and heroism, can allow them to help neutralize the threat and minimize harm even before the arrival of first responders.
Even so, the faster first responders arrive, the more lives will be saved. Today’s technology enables SROs, students, teachers or school staff to use an app or panic button to contact the local connected law enforcement agency with immediate information about the situation. Officers can be dispatched rapidly and provided with vital data such as the location of the shooter, along with live camera views and real-time updates.
The job of a School Resource Officer can be highly stressful even on a normal day. With the peace of mind allowed by better communications technology, they can focus more on what matters most – building close and trusting relationships with students. In this way they can truly fulfill their mission: providing a resource for schools to help students thrive, learn and fulfill their potential.