In the aftermath of the deadly shooting last month at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., intense public debate has focused on protecting students – and the role of student resource officers (SROs), in particular – in the event of future shooting sprees.
Generally, school resource officers are local law enforcement officers appointed to patrol schools and handle juvenile disciplinary issues. The effectiveness of SROs is highly debated. A National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) report claims the presence of SROs has reduced juvenile arrests in some schools by nearly 50 percent. On the other hand, the Justice Policy Institute issued a report that found SROs had little effect on curbing criminal activity in schools, and may even lead to inflated, and potentially unnecessary, juvenile arrests.
In a recent letter to CNN, NASRO President Kevin Quinn stated that SROs might save countless lives in a potential school shooting scenario.
“We are immediate first responders for any and all critical incidents on campus, whether it’s an intruder, a student fight or a health emergency,“ he wrote. “Having a police officer on the campus can eliminate several minutes of response time when seconds count. I know the school like the back of my hand, and if there’s a problem, I don’t need a map. I can respond in the time it takes me to get down the hall.”
However, an op-ed by Judge Steven Teske appearing recently on JJIE argues that the multifaceted duties requested of SROs may impede them from actually being present at the school in the case of a shooting incident.
“A misuse of police officers on campus will not protect the campus from another massacre,“ Teske wrote. “It will likely take the officer off the campus due to the high incident of misdemeanor arrests and allow for many to die in the wake of a deranged gunman’s wave of bullets.”
Teske continued: “God forbid there is another shooting and the media asks this one question: ‘Where was your SRO when the shooting began?’ The answer: ‘At juvenile court booking a kid for a schoolyard fight.’”
Although media attention of school resource officers increased following last month’s shooting, for the last three years, JJIE has been covering the issue with numerous features and op-eds.
- JJIE's New York Bureau chief, Daryl Khan, in partnership with the Center for Public Integrity, wrote about the effect of school safety police in New York City schools. Many argue they have created a prison-like atmosphere in the schools.
- The Chicago Bureau’s Alex Nitkin, with contributions from Gideon Resnick and Jenny Starrs, wrote about school resource officers, particularly policies in Illinois schools, in an article published late last year.
- Juvenile defender Cheryl Cutting wrote about effectiveness of school resource officers in a Dec. 5, 2011 op-ed, arguing that their presence leads to an increase in arrests for disruptive behaviors that, in most schools, would only warrant in-school disciplinary actions.
- In an article from Oct. 2011, Chandra Thomas -Whitfield writes about a young boy in Georgia that committed suicide after being harassed by his classmates. The boy’s sister said that SROs did little to address accusations of bullying following his suicide. “She says last year a boy in her class repeatedly teased her about her brother’s death,” Whitfield writes. “Her mom says she filed charges with the school resource officer but the school never responded.”
- “Should teachers carry concealed guns in school?” asked Ellen Miller in a Jan. 25, 2011 article. She brings up the Harrold Independent School District in Texas, which in lieu of school resource officers, allows teachers to carry concealed weapons into classrooms.
- A Dec. 9, 2010 op-ed written by Judge Steven Teske explored the topic of school resource officers, in particular the phenomenon of increased referrals for misdemeanors.
“We had data reflecting an increase in referrals by over 1,000 percent since the inception of the SRO program in the mid nineties,” he stated.
- Are hamburgers better protected than school children? Ken Trump addresses the need for tighter security measures, including school resource officers, in an op-ed penned in Sept. 2010.
- Chandra Thomas-Whitfield interviewed Aaron Kupchik, author of “Homeroom Security: School Discipline in an Age of Fear,” in Sept. 2010. “In a peaceful school, there should be more counselors and less police officers,” Kupchik argues. “A police officer can’t create a completely safe space for children to talk. For one, they’ve been trained to respond differently and if they learn of a criminal act they have to act on that.”
Photo by Robert Stolarik.