Black lives matter. Racial justice and police reform are necessary and urgent national objectives. But removing school resource officers from schools and replacing them with counselors is a reckless idea that will only serve to make our children less safe and secure at school.
Since the beginning of nationwide protests against police brutality that raised valid questions about the culture of policing in America and institutional racism, an increasing number of K-12 school districts across the country have opened discussions about defunding their school resource officer programs, which place career law enforcement officers with sworn authority in community-oriented policing roles in and around schools.
The latest move came in Virginia, where Sean Perryman, the president of the Fairfax County NAACP, and State Del. Kaye Kory (D) sent a letter to Gov. Ralph Northam Tuesday asking him to reallocate state funding away from supporting police officers in schools and putting it toward more school counselors. The proposal has ignited social media posts from parents and teachers who are very concerned about needed protections from gang activity, drugs, local crime, and bullying on school grounds.
“We have a unique opportunity in this health and economic crisis to remove law enforcement in our schools and to add mental health support in our schools,” Kory and Perryman said, in a release. “We must replace SRO’s with school counselors now.”
This knee-jerk reaction is an abhorrent attempt to paint the much-needed SRO programs across the country with the same brush being used to highlight the very real abuses that have taken place in major metropolitan police departments. The reality is that we need both counselors and SROs in our schools. The responsible solution to the shortage of counselors is to find money to hire more counselors, not to remove the safety net that all parents demand be present in schools to protect their children.
SROs are in a unique position to heal the wounds of racial injustice perpetrated by police officers and are also in a position to earn the trust of students who, as we know from mountains of evidence, will share information about emerging threats. With nearly seven years of data based on our efforts to help protect college campuses and K-12 schools across the nation, we know that SROs and campus police officers collect valuable information from students that prevent far more safety and security incidents than those that make the news.
A report by the National Association of School Resource Officers, “To Protect and Educate,” shows significant decreases in juvenile arrests during a period which implementation of SRO programs increased. The U.S. Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention recently released data that shows a continued decrease in juvenile arrests nationwide through 2018. In addition, the Police Foundation’s “Averted School Violence” database contains many reports of school resource officers preventing on-campus violence, thanks to information gained through positive relationships these officers built with students.
For example, in 2016 the SRO at Coral Springs High School in Florida learned from students that an individual who wasn’t allowed on school grounds had been sighted. When he located the individual, he found a loaded 9 millimeter handgun. Other students then reported a second suspicious person to the SRO as the school went into lock down. When SROs apprehended that individual, another weapon was confiscated along with a manifesto describing their intent to carry out a major school shooting.
In February 2018, two students arrived at South Harrison Community School District in Indiana and immediately told their SRO about a Snapchat conversation in which other students were discussing plans to conduct a school shooting. Court documents later showed that the students were discussing detailed plans to shoot students and bomb the school. It was the trust that the local SRO had developed with students over many months and years that enabled the timely sharing of information and prevented a major tragedy.
School districts in America that would defund SRO programs because of a false equivalency between what is happening in America’s cities between police and the communities they are sworn to protect, and what is happening in America’s schools between SROs and students, are giving in to foolish, shortsighted reactions to the very real challenges of racial justice and police reform. The answer to both of those challenges is not to make our children less safe at school.
Cover Image: School Resource Officer Donald Lee hands a cell phone back to a student who was calling for her ride after school was adjourned at the Dr.Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School for Science and Technology in New Orleans.