In recent years, many law enforcement officers have been placed in schools as School Resource Officers (SROs). Although the role of a School Resource Officer can vary depending on the school, they are generally tasked with providing safety and improving the climate of a school. However, the presence of SROs in schools has become controversial due to concerns that law enforcement activity is inappropriate in the school environment and that minority students are being unfairly treated by SROs. An examination of this contentious issue indicates that SROs offer a net benefit for schools. Therefore, SROs should be placed in all public schools in the United States.
First, SROs should be placed in schools because they increase the level of safety. Unlike teachers and administrators, law enforcement officers are trained to respond to emergencies and protect public safety in situations of school violence (Sneed). As incidents like school shootings become increasingly common, it is important to have a trained professional on the scene who is well-equipped to diffuse a tense situation or respond to a crisis. Also, the presence of an SRO improves the efficiency of communication between schools and law enforcement. According to the police chief in Eastlake, Ohio, placing an SRO in a school means that “the school does not have to make calls and explain to dispatch what is happening” (Garabrandt). As a result, law enforcement is able to mount a faster, more effective response to a safety concern at a school.
Another reason why SROs should be placed in schools is that they can help prevent crime. For instance, the mere presence of an SRO on a school campus may act as a deterrent to violent crime, and they may even reduce the rate of bulling (Gordon). Also, having an SRO on campus may increase the likelihood that suspicious behavior will be reported before a crisis occurs. For example, a school resource officer in Oskaloosa County, Florida, says that he regularly receives tips from students about social media threats, several of which have led to “arrests of students with weapons we have seized at their homes” (Venturi, qtd. in Clerkley). This suggests that mental health issues and/or inappropriate access to firearms can be addressed by law enforcement professionals before a tragedy occurs.
Finally, it is important to have SROs in schools because their presence can help improve the levels of trust between law enforcement and the community. Over the last few years, incidents of police violence that have led to the deaths of unarmed civilians have significantly undermined public confidence in police officers (Sneed). SROs in schools may be able to reverse this trend by developing positive relationships with students. Steven Shubert, an SRO at Euclid High School in Ohio, says that he often acts as an informal counselor for students, helps teachers provide relevant drug abuse education, and regularly attends school football and basketball games (Garabrandt). An SRO may also joke around with students or offer career advice for those who are considering pursuing a job in law enforcement in the future (Garabrandt). By serving as a positive community liaison, law enforcement officers in school settings can help mend the relationship between young people whose experience with the police might otherwise be limited to concerning news stories that suggest that police officers cannot be trusted.
However, it is important to acknowledge that there are concerns about the conduct of SROs in schools. Some observers worry that the presence of SROs has led to the “criminalization of typical teenage misbehavior” and the “excessive use of physical force against children in school spaces where they should feel safe,” according to an investigative report from The Washington Post (Brown). Indeed, there have been incidents of concern, such as the arrest of a student with special needs who was asked to stop talking by a teacher and then arrested by the SRO for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest (Sneed). There have also been concerns that minority students are unfairly targeted by SROs, which were strengthened by a widely reported incident in which an SRO flipped over the desk of an African American student in 2015 when she was acting disruptive and refused to leave the classroom (Brown). In the future, problematic incidents like these may be resolved by setting more clear training standards for SROs (Sneed). If the role of an SRO is more clearly defined, it is less likely that officers will use force inappropriately in the school setting.
In conclusion, SROs should be placed in every public school in the United States. Not only can the presence of a law enforcement officer improve a school’s response in a crisis situation, but it can also help prevent unsafe incidents from occurring at all. Having more SROs in schools may also be a way to help resolve the problem of growing mistrust between the police officers and the communities they serve. Therefore, immediate efforts should be undertaken to place at least one SRO in every school.
- Brown, Emma. “Police in Schools: Keeping Kids Safe, or Arresting them for No Good Reason?” The Washington Post, 8 November 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/police-in-schools-keeping-kids-safe-or-arresting-them-for-no-good-reason/2015/11/08/937ddfd0-816c-11e5-9afb-0c971f713d0c_story.html?utm_term=.2f8b05dc95f3.
- Clerkley, Bryant. “School Resource Officer Speaks about the Importance of Campus Safety.” WKRG News 5, 15 February 2018, http://www.wkrg.com/news/northwest-florida/school-resource-officer-speaks-about-the-importance-of-campus-safety/976125968.
- Garabrandt, Kristi. “School Resource Officers Aim to Have Positive Impacts on Students, Community,” 19 August 2017, http://www.news-herald.com/general-news/20170819/school-resource-officers-aim-to-have-positive-impact-on-students-community.
- Gordon, Andrea. “Students Benefit from Police in Schools, Peel Study Finds.” The Toronto Star, 15 June 2017, https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2017/06/15/students-benefit-from-police-in-schools-peel-study-finds.html.
- Sneed, Tierney. “School Resource Officers: Safety Priority or Part of the Problem?” US News and World Report, 30 January 2015, https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2015/01/30/are-school-resource-officers-part-of-the-school-to-prison-pipeline-problem.