by Traci Raley
School Resource Officers (SROs) are law enforcement officers employed by local police departments and schools to promote safety and security within the school. They can arrest, if needed, but only as a last resort. More importantly, their goal is to promote positive behavior and prevent violence before it starts. They can also refer students to outside help or resources, teach classes to educate students on law enforcement, and develop safety plans with school administrators. A more detailed definition of what SROs are can be found at the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Supporting Safe Schools, while The National Association of School Resource Officers also provides additional training and resources.
Surveys have shown that most adults in the United States are in favor of SRO presence in schools. A Gallop poll conducted after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary found that over 50% of those polled believed that adding SRO presence in schools would be effective, while only 12% did not. Also, a survey of over 600 law enforcement executives and school principals in South Carolina found that approximately 96% of those surveyed believed that SROs should be stationed in schools, and that officer presence will improve school safety. (Chrusciel et al., 2014)
However, research has yielded different results regarding student opinions of SROs and student levels of perceived safety at school. A recent survey of almost 2000 students in the southeast revealed that race and previous experience with school violence were two of the strongest factors impacting student safety perceptions. The study found that African-American students and students who had previously been victims of violence felt significantly less safe in school regardless of SRO presence and interactions. Most students surveyed reported that they had never interacted, or only minimally interacted, with their school’s SRO at all. (Theriot & Orme, 2016)
Additionally, a report by the Congressional Research Service states that few studies exist to provide statistics on the effectiveness of SRO programs, and those studies provide mixed results. (James & McCallion, 2013)
Although SROs should be a great resource for making schools safer, SRO visibility and student perceptions of their own safety at school need to improve, as well as methods for determining SRO effectiveness.
Chrusciel, M. M., Wolfe, S., Hansen, J. A., Rojek, J, J., and Kaminski, R. (2014). Law enforcement executive and principal perspectives on school safety measures: School resource officers and armed school employees. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 38. 24-39.
Theriot, M. T., Orme, J. G. (2016). School Resource Officers and Students. Feelings of Safety at School. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 14. 130-146.
James, N. and McCallion, G. (2013). School Resource Officers: Law Enforcement Officers in Schools. Congressional Research Service Report for Congress. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R43126.pdf