Consistency, Communication, and Collaboration: Making School Resource Officers Work Best for Student Safety and Success

kids at schoolSchool Resource Officers (SRO), or law enforcement officers working in the school, were created to improve the safety of schools in response to school shootings. After years of being in place, we’ve learned what works for student safety and success, as well as pitfalls that create unintended consequences. This fall, the Juvenile Justice Oversight Council (JJOC) discussed ways Kentucky can improve the role of School Resource Officers in schools to address safety needs without unintended consequences of pulling youth into the maze of the juvenile justice system.

The JJOC was interested in testimony on the role of SROs because of the high number of kids coming into the juvenile justice system from schools.  Specifically, data show SROs are the source of the vast majority (92%) of school-related law enforcement complaints (i.e., charges) filed, many of which are minor offenses. Additionally, though research shows no difference in behavior, African-American children make up 1,200 of 1,700 complaints (71%) filed from schools but only 11% of the student population.

The JJOC heard testimony from the Kentucky Center for School Safety (KCSS), The Kentucky Association of School Administrators (KASA) and law enforcement representatives from both Fayette and Jefferson Counties who oversee the School Resource Officer partnerships within their school districts. Each of the groups were asked by the Council to provide potential recommendations to improve the role of SROs within the schools.

KCSS reported that currently there are 275 SROs working in 108 school districts, meaning students in more than half of the state’s school districts interact with SROs.  Eleven of Kentucky’s districts have “special law enforcement officers,” in addition to or in lieu of SROs.

Both Fayette County and Jefferson County law enforcement presented positive examples of how SRO and school interactions can work to achieve the goals of safety and support for students. In those districts, law enforcement officers and school district partners have worked within the past year to reform the way they collaborate, train, and implement what the National Association of School Resource Officers deem as “best practices.” This includes the school and SRO partnerships realizing SROs’ most influential role in the schools is a teacher and informal counselor, and not a disciplinarian. The two officers emphasized the critical importance of carefully selecting only officers with a unique interest and specialized training in working, mentoring and guiding youth. They stressed the importance of a true partnership and collaboration between school administration and the SRO so that roles are clearly defined.

Presenters identified areas as a recommendation for action:

  • Clearly define and clarify the distinction between the SRO’s role versus the principal and/or assistant principal when responding to discipline.
  • Training and collaboration should occur alongside school administrators so that there is consistency and understanding of those roles and responses.
  • Modify the data reporting from schools so it is documented where the “law enforcement complaints” are originating from – delineating between SROs, Special Law Enforcement Officers (employed solely by the District), or from a law enforcement officer not based at a school/district.
  • Establish a model policy that districts and law enforcement partners can follow.

Kentucky Youth Advocates supports these recommendations, and a year ago we proposed questions for superintendents and law enforcement leaders to ask themselves when considering how to move away from SROs being considered “security guards with arrest power.”  Visit our blog, “Putting the ‘Resource’ in School Resource Officer” for more details.

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