Since the December 2012 shooting in Newtown, CT, there have been at least 461 incidents of gunfire on school grounds in America. These incidents have resulted in 180 deaths and 357 injuries in places where students are obtaining an education. As these become more prevalent, school districts are looking to put more safety policies in place and hire new leaders to direct these policies.
The Most Common Solution? Engage a School Resource Officer
School Resource Officers (SROs), who are sworn law enforcement officers, are common in many school districts to provide security and crime prevention services. The National Center for Education Statistics survey revealed that in all public schools for the 2015-16 school year 56.5% have one or more security staff, 28% have any security staff routinely carrying a firearm, and 42.9% have sworn law enforcement officers routinely carrying a firearm. Schools are looking to School Resource Officers to play an active part in students’ education. SROs are now being trained to serve three critical roles – teacher, mentor and Public Safety Officer.
The SRO as Teacher: Instilling Safety Policies
It is important that students, parents and the community feel comfortable approaching the SRO with safety concerns. By devoting time in the classroom, the SRO becomes a familiar, safe face and builds positive relationships with the students. The SRO also develops age-appropriate awareness on important issues relevant to their safety and security – such as fire and safety behaviors, basic first aid, resolving conflicts in peaceful and productive ways, dealing with bullying and, for the older students, avoiding substance abuse. Not only does the SRO teach students about various safety measures, he or she also leads in-service training for school staff, provides presentations and information on crime trends, and delivers training on crime prevention, intervention, and crisis response including active shooter and workplace violence situations.
The SRO as Mentor: Making Safety Approachable
In the mentor role, the SRO responds to students seeking advice, just as students seek guidance from other role models and mentors at home and in the classroom. Working during regular school hours and various after-school sponsored sports and activities, students become more familiar with the SRO. As the SRO builds trust and relationships with students, he or she gains the ability to guide students through stressful situations and can identify at-risk situations early and uncover opportunities for intervention before issues escalate. The SRO’s presence can bring a sense of comfort or relief to the students, knowing someone they trust is looking out for their wellbeing while giving them advice on how to handle tough situations.
The SRO as Public Safety Officer: Prioritizing Safety
The SRO’s knowledge and understanding of Public Safety Department policies and procedures provides valuable insight regarding community resources and crime trends in order to assist the development of effective prevention and intervention strategies. Additionally, the SRO, as a sworn law enforcement officer, has undergone training and certification as a firefighter, Emergency Medical Technician, and in some cases, a paramedic. The SRO also knows the dynamics of the school environment and can implement and suggest safety procedures that would best fit the specific school population.
A Safe, Secure and Orderly Learning Environment
The SRO’s presence, knowledge and relationships help deter criminality and trespassing and greatly reduce critical response times when and if incidents occur. Just like any security professional, the Security Resource Officer’s job is never done. Promoting an environment of safety and security is an ongoing challenge, but one an SRO can continuously face head-on with the proper support, training and tools.