Youth violence remains a significant challenge at schools throughout the country, including bullying, gang violence, fighting, and weapon use, on or near school property or at events. It affects nearly 24% of students according to a recent CDC Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
With the great prevalence of youth violence, the role of the School Resource Officer is evolving toward being a highly trained informal student counselor rather than just a security presence. As a result of this evolving role, rates of violence have diminished at schools where SROs are deployed. Additional benefits are a greater sense of security from school staff; greater access to mental health resources for students; reduced risks of emergency calls; and juvenile arrests
A leading cause of death and injuries for young people between the ages of 10 and 24 is youth violence. It is a major problem that continues to break down young people, their families, and the schools & communities where they live.
Most School Resource Officers are sworn police officers, not security guards, who are deployed by local law enforcement agencies for the purpose of community-focused policing of one or more schools.
The issue of youth violence and school violence has presented SROs with the challenge to evolve their approach to educating and protecting students. Traditional law enforcement techniques alone no longer suffice. More focus must be placed on the roots of the problem.
The Most Shared Articles on the Web are Mostly About School Shootings
Children are often much safer within the walls of their schools compared to outside. Dewey Cornell, professor of education at the University of Virginia, notes that “children are far more likely to be shot in a residence, store, street, parking lot, shopping center, or a restaurant than a school.” Still, violence in schools is a significant and urgent problem.
At many schools, violent behavior can be very hard to detect. For example, a student may experience bullying when not in plain sight or cyberbullying on smart devices or computers.
Some examples of violent behavior would include:
· Fighting (e.g., punching, slapping, kicking)
· Weapon use
· Gang violence
Technically, school violence doesn’t just happen at school. The responsible geo-areas for school violence include:
· On school property
· On the way to or from school
· During a school-sponsored event
· On the way to or from a school-sponsored event
Responsibility reaches beyond the school property. What this means for SROs is that there must be an approach that reaches beyond the schoolyard and into the community.
“Gang violence is connected to bullying is connected to school violence is connected to intimate partner violence is connected to child abuse is connected to elder abuse. It’s all connected.”
School violence is the output of a long and complicated equation. A fight that breaks out at school has been brewing, possibly for years. Early influences from violence at home are likely a contributor. A girlfriend or boyfriend who breaks up or sends the wrong text may be a contributor.
The CDC cites numerous familial and community risk factors that are directly correlated to youth violence and subsequently to school violence. A quote from Deborah Prothrow-Stith, Adjunct Professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, sums it up: “Gang violence is connected to bullying is connected to school violence is connected to intimate partner violence is connected to child abuse is connected to elder abuse. It’s all connected.”
How do we reduce the likelihood of violence in schools? It starts with the community. SROs and their involvement with the community will positively impact outcomes. Some examples where individuals and communities must start are:
Coordination of resource and services among community agencies
Access to mental health and substance abuse services
Support and connectedness to one’s community, family, pro-social peers, and school
Young people who feel united and banded together at school are at a lower risk of hurting others through bullying or physical violence and are at a lower risk for suicide. Further, strong support from family and possessing non-violent problem-solving skills have proven to be protective against most forms of violence.
The National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) includes "Informal Counselor" as one of the three foundational responsibilities of the SRO. The need for the sense of community and support at school fall right in line with NASRO's approach.
Although research overwhelmingly shows that SROs are beneficial on school campuses, the rare negative scenario will draw more attention than the countless times that SROs prevent violence, avoid arrests, or successfully counsel students. One camp believes that the mere presence of law enforcement on school campuses detracts from school safety.
Marc Schindler, the head of the Justice Policy Institute, says there is no evidence to show that expanding law enforcement by adding SROs results in safer schools. Schindler says the data shows otherwise, that this is largely a failed approach which devotes a significant amount of resources without getting the outcome of safer schools.
The Justice Policy Institute cites a survey from Palm Beach County, Florida, where 131 students were polled. The results paint a negative picture that the presence of the SRO made students feel intimidated and harassed.
The School Resource Officer is seen by many others as a critical piece to making schools safer. It is clear that the role of the SRO is not going away. Recent studies, along with many state legislative bodies, are calling for a heightened presence of SROs and School Safety Officers. Florida’s newly adopted Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act requires that every school have a “Safe School Officer”.
Specially trained officers placed in schools is an effective method for stopping acts of violence. In 2018 in Dixon, IL, SRO Mark Dallas stopped a student who had fired shots before the student was able to harm anyone.[xviii] In Great Mills, MD, SRO Blaine Gaskill was able to fire one shot, hitting the gunman in the hand and preventing any further shots from being fired. In Ocala, FL, SRO Jimmy Long responded to a classroom where a student had fired a shotgun. Long was able to disarm the shooter before he was able to shoot again.
NASRO is a professional organization dedicated to providing the highest quality of training to school-based law enforcement officers to promote safer schools and safer children. NASRO cited a study by Canada’s Carlton University that monitored an SRO program in the Regional Municipality of Peel, and concluded the following:
SRO presence resulted in an increased feeling of safety and security among students and staff
SROs helped to minimize or prevent property vandalism in the area around the school and the school itself
SROs reduced the need for the school staff to dial 911
SROs lowered the chance of students receiving a criminal record
SROs helped to prevent student injuries and even deaths due to overdoses, violence, and other causes
SROs helped ensure that students, including those with mental health issues, received the help they needed from counselors and social services
SROs clearly provide value beyond traditional law enforcement response to incidents.
The role of the SRO has been evolving for some time. NASRO found that SROs do not contribute to a school-to-prison pipeline. On the contrary, they do not arrest students for disciplinary actions that would normally be handled by the staff if the SRO were not there. Their focus is to help troubled students avoid the juvenile justice system altogether. It was determined that when SRO prevalence rose, the rate of juvenile arrests declined.
NASRO has an approach called the triad concept. This concept divides the SRO's responsibilities into three areas: Informal Counselor, Law Enforcement, and Educator. In May of 2018, Texas Governor Greg Abbott commissioned a panel discussion over three days that uncovered a gap in the effectiveness of school counselors.
The panel concluded that licensed counselors are spending most of their time on academic counseling, leaving them little to no time to attend to mental health counseling.
NASRO's approach is in line with Governor Abbott’s recent action plan, which recommends prioritizing the importance of the mental and behavioral health of students. One way of doing that is freeing up the licensed counselors to focus on those needs. The SRO, while not a licensed mental health counselor, could certainly help fill the gap as the Informal Counselor.
As the informal counselor, SROs can and should be doing everything they can to identify troubled students. Identifying students who need mental health counseling is one of the first defenses against school violence. In studying past incidents where a tragedy occurred on school campuses, the following traits and characteristics were repeatedly observed in students causing violence. This checklist provides a starting point.
Download the white paper that inspired this page.