Equity & School Safety
School Resource Officer Organization Says SROs Working to 'Seal Off' School-to-Prison Pipeline
- By Dian Schaffhauser
As a June 2021
survey by Ed
Week found, school districts all over the country are
choosing to end their contracts with local police, make major budget
cuts for school police or rework their plans to address community
concerns about police and discipline in school. Some of the thinking
behind those decisions is that by placing police officers in
education settings, schools are creating a "school to prison
pipeline," especially for students of color.
As a counterpoint,
Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) is
trying to convince a K-12 audience that its membership, made up of
school resource officers (SROs), is working as a positive force in
SROs are career law
enforcement officers with sworn authority deployed in schools that
have agreements with local law enforcement agencies.
issued the results of a
survey among 1,700 SROs. The study found that while
two-thirds of respondents (67%) said their primary function on campus
was to do law enforcement, a sizable share also primarily
self-identify as mentors/counselors (26%) and teachers (7%). In spite
of the dominance of law enforcement as a primary function, the
study's authors stated, respondents said they spent more time
handling mentor/counselor activities (48%) than law enforcement
The research also
found that on most days, 70% of respondents meet with school
administration and 56% work with guidance counselors, school nurses
or social workers, which indicates "strong collaboration between
SROs and other school staff members."
A big part of the
survey was dedicated to understanding how SROs respond in certain
types of situations, such as mutual fights with and without injuries,
tobacco possession, vandalism, "student drama," theft and
truancy. Most of the time, SROs would respond with counseling or
mentoring or referrals to school administrators, "casting doubt
on the 'school to prison' notion," the researchers noted.
survey found that the more officer training received by NASRO, the
harsher the response from the SRO. Why would that be? The researchers
offered a few explanations: "First, it may be that the SRO, who
has established a relationship with the student, becomes frustrated
with repeat offenses by the student. Second, it may be that the
introduction of the SRO to the school system identifies previous
'non-actions' on the part of the school system to pursue harsh
remedies. In other words, the school may have elected not to pursue
more harsh responses to protect their image or to not get involved in
criminal justice procedures electing the easy way out."
When arrests of
students occurred — "the most consequential decision an SRO
can make" — a third of the time it was because of crimes the
SROs observed themselves (36%) or because of crimes observed by
school staff (37%). The survey didn't examine what kinds of events
would specifically trigger arrests.
When it comes to
that most tragic of campus events, an "active shooter," the
survey asked different participants to size up the level of
confidence they had in the SRO's ability to respond. The SRO gave
himself or herself the highest marks for confidence, followed by
local police and school administration. From there, it went downhill
quickly: faculty and staff weren't sure how confident they were in
the SRO's abilities; students were more likely to say they weren't
confident; and parents as a subgroup were likely to say they had no
confidence at all.
In this case, the
researchers suggested, the outcomes were probably tied to poor
communications. "Active shooter drills have become perfunctory
for school personnel and fail to communicate the importance of such
drills [and] students see shortcomings in the drills and the overall
school protection strategy that have not been communicated to the
SRO," the report stated. "Where there are weaknesses in the
confidence of any program, the SRO must look at his or her
communications with all interested parties, and further, evaluate the
level of partnership with each."
In spite of the
overall depth of the survey, the authors emphasized that a
"significant variable" not included in the survey was
ethnicity, both of the SRO and the ethnic profile of the school or
district. "We believe that additional research on this topic is
important to shed light on potential systemic influences on racist
practices and where such practices exist," the report stated.
more than 1,700 SROs from all 50 states indicate that when
encountering negative, potentially criminal student behaviors,
respondents seek to avoid the justice system as their preferred
option," said researcher Beth Sanborn, co-author and SRO in
Pennsylvania, in a statement. "Rather than building
school-to-prison pipelines, SROs who responded to our survey are
working to seal them off."
"Measuring the Strategic Fit of the School Resource Officer with
Law Enforcement (Leaders), the Education System, the Community and
Other Interested Parties," is openly available on
the NASRO website.
Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.