Managing School Security: SRO vs. Security Management Team Model

School Resource Officers (SROs)

SROs are sworn law enforcement officers who are selected and trained by their agency to serve within designated schools. These officers typically are employed by local police departments, the county sheriff, or state police. Their salaries are funded by the employing law enforcement agency, education departments, or a combination of both on a percent basis. The concept of school-based law enforcement programs was first initiated in the 1950s and has steadily grown in popularity in recent decades due to growing fears related to juvenile crimes, especially those involving school shootings.

Pros

The SRO program is a community partnership between a law enforcement agency and the school district that seeks to promote school safety and protect schools from violence. The program is designed to have SROs assume the following roles:

Educator – SROs can serve as guest instructors in classrooms lecturing on topics such as: constitutional and criminal law, conflict resolution, substance abuse, dating awareness, and restorative justice.

Crisis Manager – SROs can assist schools in developing Emergency Operations Plans (EOPS) and serve on the Crisis Management Team. SROs can collaborate with school officials to handle any crisis that might occur and work with Incident Command to initiate protocols to handle specific emergencies.

Informal Counselor – Youth often view the SRO “as mentor” and turn to them in school just as they would to their parents and other trusted adults outside school to discuss issues and concerns. These types of interactions with the SRO can foster a positive relationship and promote trust.

Law Enforcer – Having an SRO on the school campus can foster a sense of safety and security affording the opportunity for a student to work to his/her full academic potential. Having an SRO who is familiar with the school’s layout and design can diminish response time when an emergency or violent incident occurs.

Cons

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed several lawsuits against the employing law enforcement agencies of SROs. These law suits have alleged that SROs have been using the same tactics to control misbehaving children in schools that they use to treat violent offenders on the street. Below is a list of some challenges that school districts who employ SROs must consider:

School Discipline vs. Court Processing – Schools must have a clear delineation of behaviors that require arrest rather than traditional school discipline, including those areas that fall between criminal offenses and discipline issues such as harassment, physical altercations, and destruction to property. Arrests for public order offenses such as disorderly conduct, should be a last resort to ensure that discipline remains the responsibility of the school staff.

Chain of Command – Technically SROs are employees of a law enforcement agency and therefore take their orders from law enforcement supervisors.  Although the National Association of Resource Officer Guidelines specify that “school discipline should be determined solely by school officials”, SROs do not shed their police powers when they enter the school building. This sometimes “muddies the waters” as to who is their direct supervisor while in school. Is the law enforcement agency supervisor, or the school administrator their boss while working at the school?

Use of Force – Define procedures for restraint and for taking students into custody during arrest. Often there is a distinction related to the amount of force that can be used in a school setting as compared to the street. Have a written protocol for whom should be consulted when restraints or arrests occur.
 
Communication – Develop a procedure to define which administrator communicates to the SRO on going student issues and concerns.

Searching and Questioning Students – Familiarize the SRO with the “burden of proof” necessary to both search and question students as delineated in the Student Handbook. In addition, specify which school official must be present to conduct the search or witness questioning.
  
Uniform – Recognizing that in some communities traditional police uniforms can create concern or mistrust among the student population, specify attire, and carried equipment, based on school culture and requirements of the law enforcement agency.

Security Management Team Model

 In this model, the four-member team is comprised of an unarmed uniformed security officer, and two plain clothes officers—one being male and the second female. The supervisor of the team is a school administrator. Assisting the team is an armed law enforcement officer on campus for four hours a day on a paid detail assignment funded by the school district.

  • The detail officer is briefed upon his or her arrival on campus by the Security Management Team of any daily or on-going issues or concerns.
  • Since law enforcement daily presence is by detail, many officers of the agency have an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the building and the student population which can minimize response time in an emergency situation.
  • The supervising administrator, with input from the team, makes all decisions related to disciplinary consequences of a student’s actions. If an action elevates to a criminal offense or public order violation, the supervising administrator makes the decision as to whether or not to have law enforcement initiate criminal charges and facilitate an arrest.
  • The Security Management Team meets prior to the commencement of daily classes, during lunch (after student lunches conclude), and de-briefs at the end of the day to discuss resolved incidents and on-going issues.
  • Since Security Management Team members are all school employees, the chain of command of those district administrators from whom they take direction and orders is clearly defined.
  • All Security Team Members are trained in school setting restraint techniques.
  • All Security Management Team members are familiar with the policy and procedures for questioning and searching students delineated in the student handbook.
  • Security Management Team members are perceived by students as “security officers” rather than police, which in most cases makes them more approachable.
  • Students in general are more willing to share their thoughts, feelings, and concerns with members of the Security Management Team than police.

The decision as to whether to have an SRO or a Security Management Team in a school is an individual community-based choice on which is a better fit for the overall school climate.

References

Rosiak, John “School Resource Officers: Benefits and Challenges” Forum on Public Policy, 2014

Zalatoris, Joanne “Helpful or Harmful: The Role of School Resource Officers” , 2015

 

This article solely represents the opinions of the authors and is not an official statement from the SVSU, any of its schools or this publication.

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