IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Are Police on Campuses the Answer to School Violence?

A study published by the National Association of School Resource Officers may indicate that most SROs seek to engage school administrators before making an arrest, but there's still opposition to their presence on campuses.

school police
Opposition to having police on campus as school resource officers (SRO) had deepened in recent years with the growth of incidents such as the George Floyd killing, as well as the pandemic.

Advocates of SROs on campus point to a recent study to suggest that officers seek to avoid the “school to prison” pipeline by taking alternative measures before arresting students, even if a crime has occurred.

The study, Measuring the Strategic Fit of the School Resource Officer with Law Enforcement (Leaders), the Education System, the Community and Other Interested Parties, was written by representatives from Audubon Management Consultants in collaboration with West Chester University and published on the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) website.

It surveyed more than 1,700 SROs from 50 states, and one key takeaway was that the respondents overwhelmingly suggested that their first action in most scenarios was to alert school administration officials, according to Beth Sanborn, a researcher and SRO.

The study presented respondents with a series of hypothetical situations — like sexting, vandalism, harassment and alcohol consumption — and an eight-point scale for how they would address them, with one being "do nothing" and eight being "arrest."

“What we measured was everyone’s first response without any extenuating circumstances, and overwhelmingly the response on that 8-point scale was a three, and that correlated with referring the matter to school administrators,” Sanborn said.

Sanborn said that what the survey showed her was that even when faced with a crime, SROs were inclined to work with school administrators rather than use the power of arrest. “I was shocked at the level of collaboration between the SROs and school administration,” she said. “The SROs were really integrated into the school district, not this lone wolf cop.”

SROs are police officers with at least three years of law enforcement experience who are chosen by a school district and police department.

“We need to know as much about this person’s character, their work ethic. Are they already doing good volunteer work with kids? Is this something they show passion for in terms of doing positive things in a school environment?” explained Mo Canady, executive director of NASRO.

Canady said the best SROs are the ones that develop relationships with the students and have a community policing mindset. “The No. 1 goal of an SRO should be to bridge the gap between law enforcement and youth,” he said.

But some school districts across the country have chosen to cut ties with SROs, some out of concern for the school-to-prison pipeline and the overall perception from students about having police on campus.

The question, said Marc Schindler, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute, should be “How do we deploy our precious funds with the goal of making schools as safe and conducive to learning as possible?”

Schindler said deploying cops on campus isn’t the answer. And he said they are not resource officers — they are police. “It’s a strategy by people who support having police on school grounds to call them resource officers because it sounds more benign,” he said. “Who could argue against having resources for schools? It’s what we need.”

But, he said, schools would be better served by having counselors and staff trained in mental health support, who offer someone the students can trust and confide in. Especially in communities with difficult relationships with police, the best person for that job may not be a police officer.

“And in fact, generally what we know is that schools that have invested in law enforcement and metal detectors and cameras and things like that, actually make kids feel less safe than schools that don’t do those things,” Schindler said.

Canady said that from 1996 to 2019, arrests of juveniles fell by nearly 74 percent, and that coincides with the growth of SROs on campus.

Schindler said there is no data to indicate that having police on campus leads to fewer arrests.