Beyond Enforcement – Connecting with Kids through School Resource Officer Programs

The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing offers several recommendations for maintaining school safety and building relationships of trust between schools and law enforcement officers, including:

  • create opportunities in schools and communities for positive nonenforcement interactions with police
  • establish memorandums of agreement for place of school resource officers that limit police involvement in student discipline
  • restore and build trust between youth and police by creating programs and projects for positive, consistent, and persistent interaction between youth and police

Police collaboration with schools is not a new concept, but today’s environment calls for renewed emphasis on building trust between police and youth, particularly in a school environment. School Resource Officer (SRO) programs are a great way of building trust, interacting positively in a nonenforcement method, and connecting police departments with school personnel.  SRO programs first began in 1953, but did not grow in popularity until the 1990s.  According to the National Association of School Resource Officers, there are now around 14,000 to 17,000 SROs nationwide.

An example of a very successful SRO program is the Wakefield, Massachusetts Police Department.  WPD has three officers assigned to the three different levels of schools in the area.  Each officer works as a liaison between the school administration, the teachers, the students, and their families.  They run education programs, help ensure a safe school environment, and act as a positive role model for the students. Each of the officers does their three main roles with pride: educator, law enforcement officer, and informal counselor/mentor. The Wakefield Police Department SROs have a great collaborative relationship with the administration, the teachers, and the kids, which shows how effective an SRO program can be in increasing a community’s trust in their police department.

The Westerville, Ohio, Division of Police and the Sioux County, Iowa, Sheriff’s Office  are additional examples of how SRO programs serve a very important role in community-police relations.

This blog post is part of a series highlighting best practices in advancing 21st century policing as part of the IACP Institute for Community-Police Relations, particularly those that address recommendations from the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing final report. The Institute is funded through the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services and the Motorola Solutions Foundation. Learn more about the ICPR.

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