What is a school resource officer?
A school resource officer, by federal definition, is a career law enforcement officer with sworn authority who is deployed by an employing police department or agency in a community-oriented policing assignment to work in collaboration with one or more schools. NASRO recommends that agencies select officers carefully for SRO assignments (see question below) and that officers received at least 40 hours of specialized training in school policing before being assigned.
Does NASRO certify school resource officers?
NASRO trains but does not certify school resource officers. In most contexts, certification implies an expiration date, renewal requirements (e.g. continuing education) and a revocation procedure in the rare event of misconduct. NASRO currently has no program that includes any of these. NASRO does, however, offer a recognition program for SROs who meet certain requirements, including completion of advanced training. NASRO bestows its National SRO Practitioner designation on such officers. Once bestowed, the Practitioner designation does not expire.
Are school resource officers usually armed?
Yes. A school resource officer is a commissioned, sworn law enforcement officer, not a “security guard.” NASRO recommends that all SROs be issued and carry all the same equipment they’d have on any other law enforcement assignment. NASRO is aware, however, that a few, local jurisdictions unfortunately prohibit their SROs carrying their firearms when on school campuses.
What are appropriate roles of school resource officers?
The goals of well-founded SRO programs include providing safe learning environments in our nation’s schools, providing valuable resources to school staff members, fostering positive relationships with youth, developing strategies to resolve problems affecting youth and protecting all students, so that they can reach their fullest potentials. NASRO considers it a best practice to use a “triad concept” to define the three main roles of school resource officers: educator (i.e. guest lecturer), informal counselor/mentor, and law enforcement officer.
How many school resource officers are there in the United States?
Nobody knows how many SROs there are in the U.S., because SROs are not required to register with any national database, nor are police departments required to report how many of their officers work as SROs, nor are school systems required to report how many SROs they use. A 2007 Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics (LEMAS) survey by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) found that there were more than 17,000 SROs deployed in public schools nationwide, but the DOJ has not repeated that question since. The National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO), estimates that between 14,000 and 20,000 SROs are currently in service nationwide, based on DOJ data and the number of SROs that NASRO has trained. A similar, but slightly different question is, “How many schools use SROs?” The most recent available data on that query comes from a 2018 report by the National Center for Education Statistics (a part of the U.S. Department of Education), based on a survey of public schools conducted in the spring of 2016. The Center reported that 42 percent of public schools reported that they had at least one SRO present at least one day a week during the 2015-2016 academic year. Because fewer private school than public school have SROs, NASRO estimates that approximately 20 percent of all U.S. K-12 schools (public and private) are served by school resource officers. However, many SROs serve more than one school and some schools have more than one officer. One therefore cannot reliably extrapolate the number of SROs from the percentage of schools in the 2014 survey.
What evidence exists that school resource officers are valuable?
Researchers at Canada’s Carleton University conducted a two-year study of an SRO program in the Regional Municipality of Peel. In their 2018 report, they concluded that for every dollar invested in the program, a minimum of $11.13 of social and economic value was created. The report lists numerous benefits of the program, including:
• Prevention or minimization of property damage in the school and surrounding areas.
• Prevention of student injuries and even death due to violence, drug overdoses, etc.
• Reduction of the need for schools to call 911.
• Reduction of the likelihood that a student will get a criminal record.
• Increase of the likelihood that students (particularly those with mental health issues) will get the help they need from the social service and health care systems.
• Increase in feelings of safety among students and staff.
Do school resource officers contribute to a school-to-prison pipeline?
No. Carefully selected, specially trained school resource officers who follow NASRO’s best practices do not arrest students for disciplinary issues that would be handled by teachers and/or administrators if the SROs were not there. On the contrary, SROs help troubled students avoid involvement with the juvenile justice system. In fact, wide acceptance of NASRO best practices is one reason that the rates of juvenile arrests throughout the U.S. fell during a period when the proliferation of SROs increased.
How should school resource officers respond to active shooter incidents?
NASRO trains school resource officers to move directly to the threat, as quickly as possible and then to neutralize the threat to prevent further injury or loss of life.
How many school resource officers should a school have?
NASRO recommends that every school have at least one carefully selected, specially trained school resource officer. NASRO recommends considering factors such as campus size (including acreage and number of buildings), school climate and location, and the number of non-sworn safety team members on campus when determining the number of SROs needed on campus.
Should schools arm teachers, or others who are not law enforcement officers?
NASRO strongly recommends that no firearms be on a school campus except those carried by carefully selected, specially trained school resource officers, who are by definition (see above) active, sworn law enforcement officers. There are several reasons for this recommendation:
• Law enforcement officers who respond to an incident at a school could mistake for an assailant a teacher or any other armed person who is not in a uniform.
• Anyone who hasn’t received the extensive training provided to law enforcement officers will likely be mentally unprepared to take a life, especially the life of a student assailant.
• Firearm skills degrade quickly, which is why most law enforcement agencies require their officers to practice on a shooting range frequently (as often as once per month), under simulated, high-stress conditions. Anyone without such frequent, ongoing practice will likely have difficulty using a firearm safely and effectively.
• In addition to maintaining marksmanship, ongoing firearms practice helps law enforcement officers overcome the physiological response to stress than can reduce the fine motor skills required to accurately fire a weapon.
• Anyone who possesses a firearm on campus must be able to keep it both ready for use and absolutely secure. Law enforcement officers receive training that enables them to overcome attempts to access their weapons.
• Discharging a firearm in a crowded school is an extremely risky action, with consequences that can include the wounding and/or death of innocent victims. Law enforcement officers receive training and practice in evaluating quickly the risks of firing. They hold their fire when the risks to others are too high.
• Rather than arming school faculty or staff, NASRO recommends that sufficient federal, state and/or local funding be made available to place at least one carefully selected, specially trained school resource officer in every school in the nation. NASRO further recommends that large schools be provided more than one SRO.
How should school resource officers be selected?
School police work is not for every law enforcement officer. Officers considered for the job should have at least three years of law enforcement experience. They should have a strong desire to develop positive relationships with youth on a daily basis. Their service records should contain no disciplinary actions or complaints involving youth. They should volunteer for the position; no officer who doesn’t desire an SRO position should be assigned.
How do I become a school resource officer?
The first step in becoming a school resource officer is to become a sworn, career law enforcement officer. Typically, one becomes a law enforcement officer by applying to a law enforcement agency for employment and then completing the training that agency requires of its recruits. NASRO recommends that law enforcement officers gain at least three years of street experience and complete specialized SRO training before being assigned to SRO positions. See also the question above regarding how SROs should be selected.
Keeping kids safe and building relationships that matter