Along with the adoption of ‘get tough’ approaches, also came the incorporation of police officers into the school setting.These school police officers are often referred to as “School Resource Officers” (SROs). By federal definition, a SRO is a police officer, sworn by law, employed by a police department, and assigned to work in one or more schools. Similar to Zero Tolerance policies, the placement of police officers in schools was considered a safety measure. More specifically, the placement of police officers within the school setting sought to do two things: prevent crime among students and protect the students from outside attacks. And like the Zero Tolerance policies, school police officers were put in place to address gun violence and weapon possession, but have since been utilized more broadly to deal with student misbehavior more generally.
There is little evidence to suggest that the presence of SROs are effective at serving their purpose: reducing student crime and preventing schools from outside attacks. It’s difficult to study whether or not the presence of SROs actually reduce student crime because of the tendency for SROs to be placed in schools with higher crime levels to begin with, the difficulty of comparing across schools, and the wide variations in which SROs actually do in schools (1). Furthermore, outside attacks on schools, such as mass shootings happen so infrequently that their relation with SROs is difficult to study (1). The assumed effectiveness of SROs then is based on the presumption that policing is effective while in contrast, the alternatives to exclusionary policy (PBIS, SEL, and RJ) have been heavily studied, researched, and shown to be effective.
What we do know about the presence of SROs is that they tend to have unintended negative consequences. Schools with SROs tend to have increased rates of arrest among students and positions students in closer proximity to the juvenile justice system. Furthermore, SROs create a disproportionate amount of risk for youth of color who are more likely to have SROs in their schools and within their schools are more likely to be disciplined by an SRO. Schools that run SRO programs also tend to uphold exclusionary discipline practices and as a result have higher rates of detention, suspension, and expulsion. On a similar note, the utilization of SRO programs diverts funds away from more preventive programs such as Restorative Justice, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, and Socio-emotional Learning.
1) Curran, F. C., Fisher, B. W., Viano, S., & Kupchik, A. (2019). Why and When Do School Resource Officers Engage in School Discipline? The Role of Context in Shaping Disciplinary Involvement. American Journal of Education, 126(1), 33-63.