Public Protection Officers for Public Schools
Christopher F. McNicholas
In today's modern education system, the supposed threat of Columbine-esque school violence has lead to the institution of many new security measures. Physical security measures are among some of the most widely used including ID checks, access/egress control and physical officers patrolling the halls. This last issue, the actual officer, is an idea that has revolutionized the way we view American schools.
Many issues can arise when dealing with the subject of officers in schools, especially if they are sworn public defenders such as a School Resource Officer. This paper will discuss:
1) What exactly are School Resource Officers?
2) What is their function in the school system and does it detract from the institutions true purpose, to educate youth? and
3) How are they organized? Who regulates them? How well are they trained?
On top of all these questions, problems with knowing to whom they report, and who is in charge when a crisis occurs can exacerbate any problem that may be had in an educational system. To start off, it is important to look at where SRO's came from.
Contrary to popular thought, School Resource Officers have been around for some time, the first one in Flint,Michigan, in 1953 (Mulqueen & Connie, 1999). In 1968, the Fresno, California Police Department attempted to revitalize its image in the eyes of its youth. One tactic that was employed included the deployment of seven (7) plainclothes officers to area elementary and middle schools "to promote community relations between students and police"(West et. al, 1995). In 1974, Fresno PD revamped its organization to include a Juvenile Bureau and reassigned its seven SROs to high schools as "juvenile detectives," whose job it was to follow up on crimes that either occurred on school property or involved a student. Although the SROs were present in the school, patrol officers answered most distress calls. In 1982, however, the "juvenile detectives" were answering the majority of calls in high schools and any elementary/middle school that feed the assigned high school. They also received a new name due to their new proactive responses, juvenile tactical officers or TAC officers. Despite the relative success of the TAC's, the policy changed once again in 1992 and TACs became uniformed and drove marked patrol cruisers instead of detective's cars. For the last decade the system has remained fairly stable except for the name, which has changed once again to School Resource Officers (West, 1995). The most recent report, Violence and Discipline Problems in U.S. Public Schools: 1996-97(1998) published by the National Center for Education Statistics found that:
- 1% of public schools had law enforcement officials stationed 10-29 hours a week
- 3% had law enforcement officials stationed 1-9 hours a week
- 6% had a full-time Resource Officer (30+ hours a week)
- 12% had no Officer stationed but one was available as needed
- 78% had no officer assigned to their schools during the 96-97 academic year
Percentage of School Resource Officers Stationed in Public Schools by Hours Worked
(National Center for Education Statistics 1998)
Also, of schools that had full-time officers:
- 1% were elementary
- 10% were middle schools
- 19% were high schools
Although they don't have as many numbers behind them, SROs have proven to be one of the best community policing tools today, providing students with a trust for law enforcement officials (NASRO, 2003). According to Curt Lavarello, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO, 2003), " The main purpose is to develop rapport with the students so that students trust them enough to either inform them about other classmates planning violent incidences or turn to SROs for help when they themselves are in trouble" (Mulqueen, 1999). "They develop mentor relationships with students as a proactive measure to prevent crime and tragedies by identifying and solving problems before they erupt into violence" (Mulqueen, 1999). Lavarello also mentions what he believes are the three main functions of a SRO:
1) Armed Police Officers with the powers of arrest
2) Counselors of law -related issues, and
3) Teachers of the Law (either classes or presentations)
SROs in some schools help students with career choices and push them to achieve their goals academically. Being there for students also helps the SRO see some of the internal and external conflicts his/her student body might be going through.
School Resource Officers also act as a visual deterrent to crime, their uniforms acting as a beacon to criminals and non-students. The National Institute of Justice's booklet, The Appropriate and Effective Use of Security in U.S. Public Schools (NIJ 1999), states:
the deterrent effect of a police vehicle parked on campus all night and weekend can be great. Such an arrangement can also provide both detection and response in situations where damage is being inflicted upon the facility, but no alarm system would normally detect it. (NIJ, 1999)
However, the biggest part of the job of being a School Resource Officer, by and large, would have to be assessing, acknowledging, and diffusing conflict situations.
An integral part of the function of a SRO is liaison with various entities that could be involved in a crisis: "The police department's school resource officers are the front-line intervention specialists who unite efforts among the school district, the community, and the police department to maintain order"(Hess, et al., 1997). SROs need to be able to effectively communicate with school administration, teachers and possibly the school board in order to effectively do their job. Also, the SRO should be able to talk directly with the parents of problem children concerning their child's behavior. As it is imperative for a SRO to be able to communicate with numerous entities, public speaking/ communication courses are extremely important. Proxemics is another skill in which SROs should be proficient. The natural tendencies of teenagers to either be rebellious or avoid authority figures leads to the need to put them in a comfortable, non-defensive position before the SRO even opens his/her mouth. Knowledge of epheric and shadow zones is another must when considering the assessment and approach of a potentially dangerous subject. An officer should always approach a subject from a heads-on direction and assume an open stance. This means the hands should be visible and the body should be squared away to the subject with the shoulders slightly bent inwards.
Another function that a School Resource Officer can fill is that of an informant. If the SRO notices any suspicious activity or gains knowledge of a crime yet to be committed, he/she can report it and properly investigate it quicker than a normal patrol officer. Also, if a SRO observes a student breaking school policy or any other facility related problem, he/she can report it to the correct authority, e.g., the principal, teaching staff, maintenance, etc.
Because of the various roles School Resource Officers play in keeping schools safe, the chance of developing some facet of role conflict is high. Role conflict is an internal struggle that can occur when someone's job is not clearly defined or when someone has too many jobs. In the instance of SROs, their positions lead them into situations in which they may have to be a police officer, a role model, a counselor and a friend all at the same instant. This can lead to frustration and undue stress and can affect the duties they must perform as part of their job. In order to combat the effects of role conflict, as well as ensure a properly socialized SRO, training is a key element in the life of an officer.
The National Association of School Resource Officers, the preeminent professional organization for SROs, has set up a training program that allows potential resource officers to understand the Triad concept; the balance of law enforcement, counseling, and education. In this five (5) day course, the officer learns the history of community policing, instructional techniques, lesson planning, counseling, detection of child abuse, special education, dealing with dysfunctional families, school safety, emergency management, school law, detection of substance abuse, and crime prevention/ proactive techniques among other courses designed to assist the officer in their new role. If the officer is already a certified Basic SRO, NASRO offers another one day long advanced course to refresh and progress the officer's cognitive abilities. For those officers with extensive experience in the field (minimum of three years), both subordinate certifications, and a minimum of 160 hours of in service training, the association offers the Practitioner's designation. "The National SRO Practitioner program was established as a way for N.A.S.R.O., police agencies, and school districts to recognize officers who have excelled in the area of school based policing. The program seeks to distinguish those officers who are committed to serving our nation's youth, along with the communities and schools they serve"(NASRO, 2003).
It may seem that just having one or two officers in a school is not enough, especially considering the size of some of the schools in America today. However, there is a new movement, thanks to President George W. Bush and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), to grant $350 million in federal moneys to train over 3,200 new SROs starting in 2001. This would greatly bolster the effect of the 9,446 School Resource officers there are in the United States and abroad (Beger, 2002). With this many new SROs coming up in the ranks, it will be interesting to see how their increased presence will affect the rate of crime in public schools.
Despite the vast number of improvements that have come about in the field of policing thanks to SROs, not everyone is particularly happy with the program and sees it as creating new conflicts. Teachers, normally in the authoritative position in the classroom, may have trouble subordinating themselves in times of crisis and police officers may have trouble subordinating themselves in times of peace to educational personnel. Because both professions demand compliance with rules and behaviors, it may cause conflict when one demands compliance of the other. Another proposed side effect is the loss of student rights and an interference with the educational process. Students may become distracted or even afraid when they see police in schools, which is a problem seeing as schools are a place of learning. One final opponent's statement is that despite the fact that most reported violence concerning adolescents takes place in schools, more than 99% of homicides involving juveniles takes place off school property and the vast majority are committed by adults (Donahue et al., 1999).
The fact of the matter is, not everyone can agree on all topics. However, anyone who doubts the effectiveness or need for in-school police officers surely has not looked at the evidence. If for no other reason then to familiarize students with police officers, their functions, and the law, School Resource Officers should be in every American school. However, education should come first in schools and so it is of the utmost importance that SROs be trained in methods of educating students so that they can adequately teach and participate in the learning process. In order to ensure our children's safety, SROs should be especially watched for signs of strain and other problems associated with careers in counseling such as "burnout" or emotional/psychological fatigue. Furthermore, officers should be sufficiently screened for background/educational/family problems because of their ability to have a direct influence on impressionable youths. All in all, School Resource Officers are officers who are a valuable resource to schools.
For more information on School Resource Officers, look at:
1) The Successful School Resource Officer Program
Greystone Publishers, Inc
By Anne J. Atkinson
2) The Testimony of the Center for the Prevention of School Violence on A Vision of Safer Schools by Joanne McDaniel at: http://www.ncsu.edu/cpsv/Acrobatfiles/testimony.pdf
3) A wealth of information can also be found at the Center for the Prevention of School Violence's homepage at: www.ncsu.edu/cpsv/index.htm
This site has the most up to date information on SRO's and is the preeminent professional organization for practicing SRO's.
5) If using a search engine, try these keywords for the search:
a) School Resource Officer(s) or SRO
b) Juvenile Tactical Officers or TAC officer
c) School Liaison Officer
d) Police AND Schools
e) School Security
Christopher McNicholas is a junior at York College of Pennsylvania majoring in Criminal Justice. He is employed by Crown American Inc. as a security officer at West Manchester Mall located in York, PA. Chris is also a candidate for the Certified Protection Officer Program given by the International Foundation of Protection Officers and is a student member of the ASIS International.
Berger , R. R. (2002). " Expansion of police power in public schools and the vanishing rights of students" Social Justice Spring-Summer 2002 p119. Retrieved April 8,2003, from www.web7.infotrac.galegroup.com
Donohue, E., et al. (1999). "School House Hype." Security Management Online. Retrieved February 28, 2003, from www.securitymanagement.com/library/schoolreport.htm
Hess, K. M. & H. M. Wrobleski (1997). Police Operations 2nd Ed. New York: West Publishing Co.
James, Richard K., Burl E. Gilliland (2001) "Crisis Intervention Strategies" Brooks/Cole/Thompson Pub. pp. 515-565
Mulqueen, Connie (1999) "School resource officers more than security guards." American School & University (July 1999 v. 71 i.11) Retrieved April 8,2003, from www.web7.infotrac.galegroup.com
National Association of School Resource Officers(2003) Retrieved from www.nasro.org
Senna, Joseph J.,Larry J. Seigel (2001) "Essentials of Criminal Justice" Wadsworth/Thompson Pub. p. 154 U.S. Dept. of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (1996-97).
"Violence and Discipline Problems in U.S. Public Schools" NCES 98-030 Retrieved February 23, 2003, from http://nces.ed.gov
National Institute of Justice. (1999) "The Appropriate and Effective Use of Security Technologies in U.S. Schools" NCJ 178265 Retrieved February 23, 2003, from http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij
West, Marty L., John M. Fries. (1995) "Campus-based police/probation teams --making schools safer" Corrections Today (Aug. 1995 v57 n5 p144) Retrieved April 8, 2003, from www.web7.infotrac.galegroup.com