School Resource Officers Are More than a Cop with a Gun
‘Properly selected and trained’ SROs are an integral part of campus.
School Resource Officers (SRO) are more than a cop with a gun patrolling school grounds. And they are there for more than just breaking up fights and arriving on scene to thwart a crime.
The SRO is part law enforcement officer, part counselor and an intricate part of the day-to-day operations of a school, according to Mac Hardy, director of operations for the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO).
Hardy was himself first a schoolteacher, then a law enforcement officer and finally retired after 20 years as an SRO. He said NASRO estimates that about 20 percent of schools nationally deploy SROs.
“We look at it this way,” Hardy said. “Administration alone cannot keep a school safe. Law enforcement can’t do it alone. It takes a collaboration that is sound and the community to make a team and open lines of communication.”
The SRO should be involved in all of the planning regarding safety and have access needed to know and understand every nook and cranny in a school building. He also needs to have the confidence of the students and faculty.
A big part of the job is being willing to listen to the students and allow them to get to know the man or woman inside of the uniform. “We want to break down the barriers between youth and that uniform, and bridge that gap,” Hardy said.
He said the SRO needs to be “properly selected and trained.”
NASRO’s recommendation is for the candidate to have at least three years of law enforcement experience. “They know how to police, that there is discretion in police work but also the department knows a little something about the person they’re putting in a school,” Hardy said.
There are three other criteria for selecting a good candidate for SRO and applicants need to show, No. 1, that they are not “a vacationer, just looking for weekends and holidays off,” Hardy said.
Are they about to retire and think this is a job where they’ll spend the last year or so of their career with their feet up, doing nothing?
Are they a “hostage?” Were they just assigned to be an SRO by police or sheriffs, when they really don’t like the idea of being in a school all day?
“We think those three attributes are detrimental not only to the officer who’s going in there, but also to the school and students,” Hardy said.
It’s important that the SRO be integrated in the whole school experience rather being just a cop on a beat at school. “They need to be allowed to become experts on that school,” Hardy said.
That means knowing the building “like the back of their hand” but also being informal counselors, being aware of resources available to the students, becoming guest speakers in classrooms and going to PTO meetings.
“They’ll sit there and listen to parent leaders,” Hardy said. “If parents have a hotline for them and call, you better be listening every day and respond to every call, so the community knows you’re listening. You want [the community] to keep it coming.”
It’s important for the SRO and for faculty to listen to students and the community. Students often go home and tell parents things they might not tell a teacher or SRO.
“You don’t want things falling through the cracks,” Hardy said. “So many times over the years, we’ve heard, ‘Well we knew he was going to do that, he was an odd bird.’ Let’s stop saying that.”
As a law enforcement officer, the SRO is armed but NASRO doesn’t recommend arming teachers on campus. “It’s a difficult enough job with the standards they have to meet and the pressures of preparing the students,” Hardy said. “There are other things we can do in schools to make them work better.”
“I remember telling my wife when I retired, I’m relieved not to have to wear that gun in school.”