School resource officer

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School resource officers (SROs) are sworn law enforcement officers who are responsible for providing security and crime prevention services in schools in parts of the United States and Canada.

SROs are typically employed by a local police or sheriff's agency and work closely with administrators in an effort to create a safer environment for both students and staff. The responsibilities of SROs are similar to regular police officers in that they have the ability to make arrests, respond to calls for service, and document incidents that occur within their jurisdiction. School resource officers typically have additional duties to include mentoring and conducting presentations on youth-related issues.


School resource officers have been in existence since 1953, when Flint, Michigan provided the first documented SRO to their community.[1] The topic was not broadly discussed until 1968, when the Fresno, California Police Department looked to the school resource officer program as a tool to “revitalize its image in the eyes of its youth”.[1] This early adaptation of the program involved placing plain clothed officers in the middle and elementary schools to foster the relationship that the department had with the youth, which continues to be a goal of the program.[1]

Although Fresno’s program began with non-uniformed officers, it has progressed into what is seen in most communities today; usually this includes a uniformed officer operating a marked police vehicle, who is responsible for safety and security on the school property. In addition to these responsibilities, Resource Officers must be able to communicate effectively with school officials and address a variety of situations. They must also be willing to communicate with parents, assist with behavior issues and give presentations when necessary.[1]

From the mid-1970s to 2008, the number of schools with police stationed on campus rose from approximately 1 percent to 40 percent."[2] In many states SRO's are the main enforcers and interpreters of the states' School disturbance laws.


Like the United States, many secondary schools in Canada have hired security personnel to enhance the safety of staff and students and some, such as in Toronto, have engaged armed police officers to be in the school throughout the day. In 2008, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) and the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB), in collaboration with the Toronto Police Service, institutionalized the SRO Program by permanently placing armed, uniformed police officers in secondary schools. Like School Resource Officers in the United States, Student Resource Officers in Toronto are responsible for providing security and crime prevention services in schooling environments.


Student Resource Officers are becoming more commonplace in American and Canadian schools and there are increasing concerns that their presence in secondary schools creates an atmosphere that leads to an increase of youth/adolescents being introduced to the Criminal Justice System.[citation needed] Although some individuals believe that secondary schools are dangerous spaces due to the presence of SROs, many view secondary schools as safer places when police officers are present because it is perceived that they monitor and regulate risky and deviant individuals, particularly youth.[citation needed] School boards across Canada and the United States are implementing criminal justice system practices in order to achieve a safe schooling environment; however, this comes at the cost of exposing youth/adolescents to the Criminal Justice System and tarnishing their educational achievements for situations that in the past would likely have been handled through disciplinary action within the school.[citation needed] This is seen by some as contributing to the school to prison pipeline.[3]

Three key areas regarding the use of school resource officers are often mentioned during debates as to the effectiveness of the program. Those areas include crime prevention, the increasing number of juvenile arrests, and the cost of SRO programs compared to other services that could be provided to the students.

  • Crime and violence continue to threaten schools and students. In a 2004 survey of school based officers, over 78% stated they had taken a weapon from a student within the past years.[4]
  • A good balance of school safety includes addressing both the physical security/safety issues and looking at the psychological safety of all students as well.[5]
  • Creating a safe learning environment is a critical component of preparing children to be successful and contributing to society.[5]
  • Local police departments and sheriffs' offices currently employ an estimated 20,000 full-time school resource officers.[6]
  • School resource officers are expected to be more than a law enforcement officer, they are expected to educate students about law-related topics and be a role model to each and every student that they encounter.[5]
  • School resource officers should be specifically trained to perform their duties in an educational setting and they must understand the special nature of school campuses.[5]
  • Budget reductions have led to cutbacks in many school resource officer programs with as many as 24% of the existing programs one particular state experiencing a loss of officers due to budgetary issues.[7]
  • Some studies indicate that school resource officers make criminal arrests of student for matters that should be handled through the school disciplinary channels and should not have escalated to the level of criminal charges being filed in Juvenile Court.[8]
  • In three of the 10 largest school districts in the United States, more security personnel, including sworn school resource officers, outnumber school counselors.[9]

Crime prevention[edit]

The first major area is Crime Prevention. The Center for Technology in Education at Johns Hopkins University provides a simple job description for SROs and notes that "The SRO shall develop crime prevention programs and conduct security inspections to deter criminal or delinquent activities." [10] While some may be under the impression that SROs are in place only to protect students from external harm, SROs are also responsible for reducing the juvenile crimes that occur on school property. Johns Hopkins University considers this to be a basic requirement for SROs and numerous other articles mimic this concept that School Resource officers prevent crime.

However, this is not the only opinion regarding the reduction in crime. Some feel that this increased safety associated with the presence of a school resource officer can be experienced by all schools if the emphasis is taken away from SRO programs and more efforts put into creating a safe environment through school related programs. An article by the Justice Policy Institute shows that during the time period from 2003 to 2007 there was an 8.9 percent decrease in the number of SROs in the United States and during the same time frame there was no increase in the number of reported offenses.[8]

It is also believed that incidents in schools with SROs are under reported because school administrators or teachers will often simply contact the SRO when assistance is needed, reducing the number of calls received by 911 call centers.[11] In another article, James Swift also refers to the report prepared by the Justice Policy Institute. His writing further indicates that the presence of school resource officers does not lead to a reduction in crime.[12]

The presence of school resource officers can deter crimes that would otherwise be committed on a school campus. However, there is also data showing that other administrative measures seen in schools without SROs can also contribute to a lower crime rate.

Increasing arrests of juveniles[edit]

An area of concern for school resource officer programs is the rate of juvenile arrests. In a 2011 article by Amanda Petteruti issued by the Justice Policy Institute, information is presented that indicates that school referrals to the juvenile justice system have increased with the presence of SROs. A high percentage of those referrals were for minor offenses that may have been handled by the administration had an SRO not been present. This concern has attracted attention and some studies indicate that the use of the Juvenile Justice System for minor offenses aids in a phenomenon known as the "School to Prison Pipeline" (pg. 13).[8][13]

The American Civil Liberties Union produced a white paper in 2009 titled "Policing in Schools: Developing A Governance Document for School Resource Officers in K-12 schools". Within this document, the ACLU suggests that SRO programs should be designed to provide a different response for disciplinary matters as opposed to criminal offenses that occur on school grounds. This recommendation was intended to ensure that juveniles were not receiving disparate treatment based upon the presence of a law enforcement officer within their school.[14]

In 2012, Ryan J. Morimune presented his Differential Association Theory. Mr. Morimune claims that criminal behavior is learned from peers and associates, and, therefore, "SRO programs are a rational method to preventing[sic] an increase in delinquency[sic] especially in schools that are more susceptible to crime and violence." (pg. 28) [13]


One final area of concern is the expense that is associated with placing school resource officers in public schools. In September 2011 the Journal of Police Crisis Negotiations included an article entitled: School Resource Officers in Financial Crisis: Which Programs Get Cut and Why. This article provided some background data from the American Association of School Administrators which reported that "84% of school districts believed that they are inadequately funded." (pg. 126) [7] The article went on to explain how a large number of districts were facing reductions in force issues and some had experienced five years of budget cuts. Many of the cuts were being made to areas that were not academic in nature which only leaves a few areas where reductions could occur. One of those areas is school safety initiatives. In the SRO-School relationship, if the school is not able to supply the funding, then the costs of the officers typically falls to the local law enforcement agency.[7]

When the issue of cost is discussed, the controversy seems to split on a very specific line. Principals typically give great reports when surveyed about the importance of having an SRO present at their school.[7] The National Association of School Resource Officers says " As public-school budgets shrink, communities must not lose sight of the value of SRO programs in their schools. The long-term costs of discontinuing SRO programs far outweigh the savings. " (Pg. 50)[15] These organizations obviously feel that the presence of officer in public schools is a critical piece of the school's operations and should be continued regardless of the costs.

Those on the other side of the discussion do not feel that the funding costs are justified by the service that is provided by the school resource officers. Amanda Petteruti (2011) also discusses the issues of budget reductions in her article but she goes on to include that for the price of one school resource officer, most districts could hire one teacher and have money left over. The concerns expressed in Education Under Arrest regarding cost show that during times of budget cuts and financial shortfalls that school administrators should examine their operations and see if another service would benefit the school more than having a law enforcement officer on campus. In addition to the expense of the local officer, some look at the national reductions that have been seen in the COPS grants that are administered by the United States Department of Justice. Those grants made their first major impact in 2000 when the grants provided money to employee almost 600 School resource officers in 289 different communities. The funding allocations peaked in 2002 then have decreased ever since. Some see this as a message that the issue is not a priority for the Department of Justice and those ideas are reinforced when you see large metropolitan school systems reduce the number of officers that they have on campuses. In addition, Amanda Petteruti (2011) argues that "School resource officers are a relatively new means of maintaining school safety, having only gained real traction in schools in the 1990s. Experienced faculty and staff have been in schools for much longer and are trained to work with students to keep everyone at school safe and to maintain a positive learning environment." (p. 24) [8]


  1. ^ a b c d McNicholas, C. (2008). "School Resource Security Officers: School Protection Officers for Public Schools". 
  2. ^ Criminalizing Children at School, The New York Times.
  3. ^ School Resource Officers: Safety Priority or Part of the Problem?, Tierney Sneed, USA Today, Jan. 30, 2015. Retrieved 2017-12-03
  4. ^ National School Safety and Security Services (2004). "2004 National School Based Law Enforcement Survey". 
  5. ^ a b c d Cowan, K.C.; Vaillancourt, K.; Rossen, E.; Pollitt, K. (2013). "A Framework for Safe and Successful Schools". 
  6. ^ Brad A. Myrstol (2011). "Public Perceptions of School Resource Officer Programs" (PDF). 
  7. ^ a b c d David C. May; Hart, Travis; Ruddell, Rick (September 28, 2011). "School Resource Officers in Financial Crisis: Which Programs get Cut and Why". Journal of Police Crisis Negotiations (11): 125–140. ISSN 1533-2594. 
  8. ^ a b c d Amanda Petteruti (November 2011). "Education Under Arrest: The Case Against Police in Schools". Justice Policy Institute. 
  9. ^ "Exclusive: Data Shows 3 of the 5 Biggest School Districts Hire More Security Officers Than Counselors". The74. Retrieved 2016-04-04. 
  10. ^ Center for Technology and Education (2004). "School Resource OfficerJob Description". 
  11. ^ Craig D. Uchida (January 2002). "Measuring the Performance of School Resource Officers". 
  12. ^ Swift, J (January 18, 2013). "School Resource Officer: A Topic of Hot Debate, Even Prior to Sandy Hook". 
  13. ^ a b Ryan J. Morimune (2012). "The School Resource Officer Perspective: Examining Crime, Violence, Law Enforcement, and Education on Public High School Campuses". 
  14. ^ Catherine Y. Kim; Geronimo, India (August 2009). "Policing in Schools: Developing a Governance Document for School Resource Officers in K-12 Schools". 
  15. ^ Canady, Maurice; James, Bernard; Nease, Janet (October 2012). "To Protect and Educate: The School Resource Officer and the Prevention of Violence in Schools" (PDF). 

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