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School Resource Officer: A Collision of Philosophies Makes it Unique

Newly released standards focus on what makes a successful SRO program.

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The National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) announced a set of recommended standards for deploying School Resource Officers (SRO) successfully.

SROs can be one of the effective layers of security for schools but there are keys to getting the right fit that include the right officer, collaboration between law enforcement and schools and having an understanding between law enforcement and school district of what is expected from each for the position to be successful.

“It’s not for everybody,” said Mo Canady, NASRO executive director. “It’s kind of a collision of philosophies, bringing law enforcement and education together, but if done the right way can be a difference-maker.”

The recommendations included four main areas:

1.    Administrative standards, including an outline of the definition and purpose of an SRO.
2.    The careful selection of law enforcement officers for SRO positions.
3.    Specialized SRO training, including adolescent mental health, threat assessment and active shooter response.
4.    Interagency collaboration between school districts and law enforcement agencies.
Canady said one of the most important pieces to the successful equation is a foundational memorandum of understanding, signed by the school superintendent and the sheriff or police chief. 

“It’s really impossible for the program to be successful if the school district and the law enforcement agency are not on the same sheet of music,” he said. “It doesn’t mean they have to agree on everything but there’s got to be foundational agreements for how it’s going to work.”
He said the No. 1 goal of an SRO program is effectively connecting to youth through relationships.

Some of those foundational keys include the roles each entity will play, the chain of command, who the SRO ultimately reports to, issues surrounding arrest procedures, and how to handle disciplinary matters. Those vary by jurisdiction, but there are solid standards.

Selection of the officer is critical. It has to someone passionate about working with youth and someone with experience, whether professional or volunteered, leading young people, such as through being a coach or scout leader. “As a former SRO supervisor, that may have been the biggest challenge I had and the most important challenge,” Canady said. “It’s the most unique position in law enforcement, there’s a lot involved in the package.”

It’s a high-visibility position in the community as well, so there is pressure on both the office and the police or sheriff’s department because putting the wrong person in that position can cause headaches for everyone involved.

The candidate should have at least three years of police work. That allows for a good frame of reference and a chance for recruiters to get a real feel for the person. Tactical experience is important too, as are firearms skills. “He has to be a well-balanced officer,” Canady said.

There is an initial 40-hour training course, but training is ongoing and varied. “They have to be able to take the skills they have and apply that to the school environment,” Canady said. “They have to learn about things like understanding the adolescent brain, special education and working with diverse groups of students, how to interact with educators.”

There are also state and national trainings and most SROs spend the summer months or those times when school is out on continued education.