Studies prove… SRO’s are good!

jefferson-reading

It takes a special person to be a cop. It takes a special cop to be an SRO.

While it is true that some small agencies assign police officers to the position of SRO based on seniority, most of us become SRO’s because we want to. We apply when a position is available. We prepare for the interview process. A selection board decides which of us is best qualified to leave the streets and begin working directly with the most precious commodity we have – our children. Then we go to training courses and conferences where we learn what it means to be an SRO.

Cops become SRO’s because we like kids. Cops become SRO’s because we want to arrest kids less – not more. Cops become SRO’s because if there is anything resembling a “pipeline,” wherein children are moving rapidly towards a lifetime of incarceration, we want to STOP that process. Like teachers, we are crazy enough to believe that we can make a difference in the lives of young people and help them to make more positive choices and less negative ones. So when groups stand up and claim that SRO’s are actively contributing to a “school-to-prison pipeline” we naturally take offense.

This goes against everything we believe and everything we work for. When one looks at the groups who are supporting this movement – the myth that SRO’s have been dispatched to label problem children, treat minor discipline issues as criminal and identify our future prison population – it becomes clear that these groups come from the anti-police standpoint that law enforcement is just… bad. Obviously this is not true.

But then why are they making this claim? What would cause people to believe that the officers who work in our schools show up with an evil agenda? Is there any evidence? I mean, if something like this is actually happening – perhaps unintended consequences despite our best efforts to the contrary – I would certainly like to see the proof. If there is actual evidence of this, maybe I can learn from it and perform my job better.

All the evidence that I have seen cited to make this claim tends to be either anecdotal or sensational.

The anecdotal evidence goes something like this: “From what I have seen, I believe SRO’s are bad.” People (students, parents or community leaders) have a negative view of law enforcement, and this is “proven” to them because of an experience they had. For example, “My friend got into a simple schoolyard fight but the SRO made a big deal out of it and arrested him,” or “It just feels like the SRO is always watching us… waiting for an excuse to get us in trouble.” It would make sense that some people would have experiences like this and draw the conclusion that the SRO is a negative presence, but someone feeling or believing that the SRO does more harm than good is not PROOF of this. A hunch or vibe is not evidence.

The sensational evidence is what you would expect: A random SRO from Anytown, USA in one school, one day, with one kid, makes a decision involving enforcement or the use of force that, on video, just looks bad. And ya, some of these videos look really bad. It may or may not have actually been “bad,” which it to say that we rarely have the full story available on the day that a small portion of the contact caught on video goes viral. Some of these guys are actually within the guidelines of their agency’s use of force policy. But OMG does it look bad. Big bad cop versus little kid. My response to this, again, is that no matter how bad it looked when that one SRO did that one thing that one time, we cannot judge the overall effectiveness of thousands of SRO’s throughout the United States based on a few shocking viral videos.

What does science say? What does research tell us? Well in 2012, NASRO published “To Protect & Educate: The School Resource Officer and the Prevention of Violence in Schools” to address criticism of SRO’s and our role in this supposed pipeline. This is a very concise work that we have posted elsewhere on this website.

I just read a new research brief released by The Dolan Consulting Group and Richard R. Johnson, Ph.D. entitled, “What Effects do School Resource Officers Have on Schools?”  If you have any interest in SRO’s and what we do – and if you’re reading this post I suspect that you do – I strongly urge you to follow the above link and take a look at this paper. It’s just 4 pages long and it’s an easy read.

For those of you who like your facts in a nutshell, I will summarize the findings for you. Johnson, citing multiple sources and studies, found the following:

  • Studies do not indicate that SRO’s create a “school-to-prison pipeline” in which children are saddled with criminal records for behaviors that previously would only have resulted in minor in-school discipline.
  • While SRO’s and patrol officers tend to handle felony crimes in a similar fashion, SRO’s generally appear to be more lenient than their patrol counterparts when dealing with minor student criminal behavior and conduct problems.
  • SRO’s see their role as that of a social worker, educator and surrogate parent to students – not just an enforcer of laws.
  • Principals approve of the presence of SRO’s and report reductions in crime when SRO’s are around.
  • There is ZERO evidence to suggest widespread actions by SRO’s to criminalize the minor behaviors of students in general, or minority students in particular.
  • SRO’s make arrests under the same circumstances that would cause a principal to call the police if the SRO was not there.
  • SRO’s create the opportunity for school-aged kids to have non-confrontational, non-enforcement contact with law enforcement that may contribute to more positive opinions of the police later in life!
  • The presence of an SRO on campus may enhance the safety of children.

So there it is folks. It’s science. The most exhaustive research to date “does not support the ‘school-to-prison pipeline’ theory, and further research may well support the widespread belief held by principals that the use of SRO’s tends to have a positive impact on schools and students.”

Keep up the good work SRO’s!

Mike Jackson – OSROA President

Share Button

Leave a Reply