School Police: Good Idea? Bad Idea?

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Bringing police into public schools is a trend that exploded in the 1990s, after high-profile school shooting incidents at Columbine and Jonesboro.

When a reader asked a question about school resource officers,  we realized how little we knew about these officers.

Are school resource officers law enforcement officers? Disciplinarians? Counselors or educators? Let’s take a look at school resource officers – what they do, training requirements, effectiveness, and more.

What Roles Do School Resource Officers Play?

We found little agreement about the roles school resource officers play. Some organizations describe them as law enforcement officers or school security personnel. Other groups describe them as “co-teachers” with general ed teachers who are responsible for classroom management, so kids don’t view school resource officers as disciplinarians!

School resource officers wear many hats, including:

* preventing crime, gangs and drug activity in and around schools
* educating students about crime prevention and safety
* developing community justice programs
* teaching conflict-resolution and problem-solving skills to students, teachers and parents
* teaching students “law-related information”
* making arrests and issuing citations
* acting as hall monitors, truancy enforcers, crossing guards, and operators of security devices

The COPS in Schools Program describes three roles for school resource officers:

* problem-solver and community resource liason
* educator
* safety expert and law enforcer

Education & Training

We learned that school resource officers are not certified or licensed. We found no evidence that school resource officers make schools more or less safe.

How many kids are arrested in your child’s school? In your school district? What happens to a child who is arrested and taken out of school in handcuffs?

State Departments of Education do not require school districts to keep records of police activities so we don’t have answers to these questions.

Taking School Safety Too Far? The Ill Defined Role Police Play in Schools says “School resource officers…. are not taught how to recognize manifestations of students’ disabilities. As a result, students with special needs, students of color, and students from disadvantaged communities face a heightened risk of arrest.”

According to The Facts about School Violence, “Little of the violence reported for children and youth occurs in school; nor does national data show that the problem is getting worse.”

“With a school homicide rate of less than one in a million, the chances of violent death among juveniles are almost 40 times as great out of school as in school … national surveys consistently find that school violence has stayed essentially stable or decreased slightly over time …” Facts about School Violence at

The National School Safety and Security Services collects data about school associated violence.

More Questions

Has the increase in school resource officers led to an increase in arrests of young children?

Should school police officers be licensed or certified? Should they be educated about the needs of children with various disabilities? Should they receive training in appropriate ways to deal with the problem behaviors that some children with disabilities may exhibit?

Given the lack of research and lack of data about the effectiveness of school resource officers, is it a good idea to bring police into schools?

We welcome your thoughts about school resource officers in the comment box below.

  1. SROs can be very valuable. Mine has developed a strong relationship with several of our students with significant behavior difficulties. These students know him for the good and bad. He frequently checks in on the students and celebrates their accomplishments. By having this positive relationship, when the child is having a significant behavioral episode, they are more likely to accompany the SRO for a cool off period rather than escalating the behavior.

  2. School Resource Officers are generally not a good idea. One resource officer cannot protect your children against an attack by a crazed gunman. Most police officers want to make cases and end up much too involved in school discipline issues. They interfere with student rights and circumvent the federal laws that protect children with IEPs and 504 plans. They make arrests that would not hold up in adult court. They stigmatize and criminalize your young children and give them a number in the juvenile justice system. They burden the Family Court System with needless cases where the accused is more the victim than the criminal. They are many times the less competent officers who were strategically placed in schools because they were not desirable for other police work. I believe we need to find another way to protect our children.

  3. Was trying to have a conversation today about my child’s iep being implemented and the SRO put himself into my conversation without my asking his opinion, and he was very intimidating. The principal responded, “He’s the law”.

  4. Last week my daughter was given kool-aid laced with a drug by another student and the school resource officer refused to file a police report. I am livid. My daughter could have died. SRO said that because the school nurse stated that her pupils weren’t dilated and her pulse was fine that maybe there wasn’t anything in the kool-aid. When I picked up my daughter to take her to the emergency room she was not fine. She did not act like herself. She did not act like herself on the ride to the emergency room. The school is not doing enough to try to find the student that poisoned my daughter. By the time the emergency room did the blood work there was nothing found in her system on the tox screening they did. Another student stated to the school that my daughter acted like she was given ecstasy. My daughter was too trusting.

  5. Our SROs in South Tucson are wonderful and I am glad to have them in our schools. I work with students with special needs and, yes, they are often the ones the SROs deal with, but on our crowded campus I would rather a student be removed from a situation than the situation erupt.
    Our SROs have been amazing when I have had children who have been abused in the home. They have been nothing but caring and professional.
    Yes, some SROs may make mistakes, but many are wonderful examples for our students and I would rather have them on campus than not.

  6. One important fact about the case Meiki references is that the judge in the case went to a seminar on autism spectrum disorder and became informed. He realized that the boy’s behavior was a reaction to the overload of repeated fire alarms. If more justice officials and officers of the court, including police, got informed, there would be fewer cases like this.

    Too often, SRO’s are simply a uniformed arm of the disciplinary office in the school staffed by officers who have no knowledge of adolescent behavior or of special needs.

  7. My main concern is re: resource officers handling students with disabilities, esp autism/behavior disorders. We just had an incident locally where an autistic teen was arrested, handcuffed, jailed for resisting an school resource officer. Story here: There are 2 more cases locally of law enforcement officers not understanding autism/mental health issues and arresting teens on the spectrum.

    Luckily the case was dismissed, but not until the boy spent a night in jail and months awaiting his hearing.

  8. Jeanne that is tragic scenario and I assume you are referring to the incident in South Carolina at CFHS last year. The report was the boy stabbed the officer, but that is no excuse for the tragic outcome.

    Certainly illustrates the importance of crisis planning and response with students with disabilities, which was mandated with Executive Order 12247 Individuals with Disabilities in Emergency Preparedness. Although law enforcement should be trained in working with individuals with disabilities working in the schools entails a different set of practices to align with the school’s crisis plan etc.

    It seems unbelievable that the officer returned to his same position. That would require a good amount of threat assessment and school planning to address any anxiety/trauma/risk his presence could cause for himself, students, and staff.

  9. I find it ineresting when schools point to any program that “teaches” kids about the importance o following rules and laws as wells as having respect for authority.

    The majority of our public schools forget about following rules and laws when it comes to ADA or the IDEA. Their respect for authority is demonstrated by the amount of money that is paid to their attorney who “protects’ their chloice of rules to follow.

    Enforcement of IDEA could be enforced by and monitored by these Police oficers since they are alrady on the property every day. Just as ROs handleing discipline allows school staff to focus on education, enforcement at a Department of Justice level would allow State Dearment staff to focus on Educatoin as well.

    We can’t lead by bad example and expect good results.

  10. Here In Palm Beach County the school district has their own police department. The officers are full time and assigned to individual schools. They develop such a relationship with the kids that it is more mentoring than police presence. As a result, many kids come forward to the officers when they learn of other students bringing weapons to school. In my mind, many acts of violence to include bullying is shut down with the school police officers on campus.

  11. I know a high school student, who is a minority student and a student with an IEP. He was harassed and intimidated by security officer, who seized and searched his backpack and did a body search – all without a warrant. The mother is still not allowed to view the surveillance tapes.

    We joke that having the security officers in our schools is preparing the next generation for life in a militarized, police state. 🙂

  12. I like the idea of inviting cops to school to meet with groups of kids to help them learn about police, safety, and the law, but I’m not a fan of school resource officers patrolling the halls. Too many SROs are predisposed to see adolescent antics, mischief, and misbehavior as criminal offenses.

    Below are a couple of thoughtful articles on this topic. Both point out there’s research indicating that SROs have not made schools safer (for example, Columbine had SROs). There have also been studies suggesting zero-tolerance policies, suspensions, and arrests on campus are contributing to greater drop-out rates and juvenile delinquency. Is this a good use of taxpayer dollars?

  13. I too have not read anything that shows that these officers are making it safer in the schools. Last year at one of our high schools an SRO shot and killed a 16 year old boy with Asperger”s Syndrome. The officer is back at work and the family lost a beloved child. Is this really what we want? Seems to me with the rapid rate of communications the police can get to the school quickly enough to handle it. I don’t know of anyone saved by an SRO but I know one who was taken away.

  14. Our school Police are full time Police officer with the local police Dept.
    I don’t think they are very trained to deal with children under the age of Middle School nor for that matter Spec.needs kids of any age.
    I went with a family who’s kid had been set up in high school so was both in trouble with the police & school. The school held their hearing first & the officer sat thru all testimony plus his own. When going to court the judge ask why the officer was allowed to sit thru all school hearing & no reply was given. The lawyer for the kid got the court case dropped partly because of this officer being in on all testimony @ school.
    The kids are confused because when they are caught in school these officers are police first & often kids are not given their legal rights but rather told by the officer lets go talk.

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