School resource officers serve as educators and trusted adults

August 27, 2018 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School

A few years ago during a grocery shopping trip, one of my sons pulled me aside to tell me he had just seen Officer Andrew. His tone was hushed with a hint of awe, one that was typically reserved for the 1,000-piece Lego sets in Target.

My son was eight at the time and I wasn’t sure why or when he had had a brush with the law. After asking several questions, I found out the officer sometimes visited his third-grade classroom. According to my son, Officer Andrew was fun and friendly and talked with the students about such topics as stranger danger.

Pretty cool, I thought.

Fast forward a couple years and now more and more school districts are hiring law enforcement officers to work in their schools as an added layer of protection in the event of a crisis, to deliver messages of safety and security to students and staff and to serve as another trusted adult in the school community that students can confide in.

School resource officer responsibilities are divided into three areas: educator, informal counselor and law enforcement officer, according to the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO).

“The goal of NASRO and SRO programs is to provide safe learning environments in our nation’s schools, provide valuable resources to school staff, foster a positive relationship with our nation’s youth and develop strategies to resolve problems affecting our youth with the objective of protecting every child so they can reach their fullest potential,” according to the NASRO website.

The Moravia Central School District in Cayuga County recently established its 2018-2021 strategic plan, with a top priority being supporting the social and emotional wellbeing of its students. From the discussions that took place to shape that plan came the idea of re-instituting a school resource officer program for the 2018-19 school year.

A state trooper previously worked in the district, but when the grant funding for that position went away several years ago, so did the SRO position.

The strategic planning committee wanted to bring that position back to help support the district’s nearly 1,000 students, Superintendent John Birmingham said.

When an SRO program is executed properly, the SRO serves as another trusted adult in the school community, he said. The SRO develops that trust by being visible and interacting with students, developing relationships with them so that students feel comfortable talking and confiding in the officer. That’s important because students are often the first ones to know if something is brewing amongst their peers and can alert the SRO, Birmingham said.

As the number of school violence incidents has grown nationally, the Moravia community asked for that extra level of protection and peace of mind that comes with having an SRO based in a school community, Birmingham said. The district included funding for the position in the proposed 2018-19 budget, which passed with 82 percent of the voters authorizing the proposal.

“We’re in a different world now,” Birmingham said. “There is a heighted awareness that violence can occur anywhere and there is also an expectation that school is a place where a child should feel safe.”

The district’s new SRO, who is a full-time police officer with the Village of Moravia Police Department, will be based at the middle/high school and float between that building and the elementary school, which is within walking distance.

The Marcellus Central School District in Onondaga County has an established school resource officer program that includes three officers from the Village of Marcellus Police Department. One SRO is stationed at each of the district’s three school buildings.

The officers have security routines in the buildings and spend time inside and outside the classrooms working with the district’s approximate 1,580 students. Brantner said she believes having SROs in the schools has helped build a positive school climate across the district. In addition to reviewing safety procedures and performing building security checks, the SRO’s spend time with students, building relationships with them so they see police officers as people they can turn to if they need help, she said.

Knowing the SROs are within the buildings, able to respond immediately in the event of a crisis, has also added a layer a calm for the staff, Brantner said.

“They’re just part of the fabric of the school. As far as I’m concerned, there is no down side,” said Superintendent Michelle Brantner. “When there are things that happen that do require the involvement of law enforcement, you have someone working with you that you already know, that already knows your students, your schools and your community. It just really facilitates everything.”

School Resource Officer Benefits

A January 2018 report based on a two-year study of a school resource officer program in Canada’s Regional Municipality of Peel found multiple benefits to operating the program, including the following:

  • Students report being less fearful.
  • Learning outcomes improved.
  • Mental health improved
  • Students miss less school
  • Fewer incidents of crime and bullying
  • School staff spend less time on discipline, property damage
  • Students can avoid courts and criminal records when appropriate.
  • Help from social services and health-care systems more likely.
  • Less pressure on the police force front lines. Officers acquire skills on engaging with the community they serve.

Source: “Assigning Value to Peel Regional Police’s School Resource Officer Program,” Dr. Linda Duxbury, Sprott School of Business professor, and Dr. Craig Bennell, Department of Psychology professor; Carleton University; January 2018.

Nancy Cole is a public information specialist and grant writer for Capital Region BOCES. She lives in Onondaga County with her fourth- and sixth-grade sons.

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