Without a doubt, superb leadership is a must for a superb school resource officer program. One of the best SRO programs in the nation was quickly gutted when its chief of police was replaced by an individual who lacked an understanding of leadership in this unusual environment. By trying to run the SRO department as he would a traditional police department, he ran the agency into the ground in less than a year. Conversely, properly selected leaders have helped build and maintain incredibly effective SRO programs around the nation.
All SROs should receive training in a variety of areas, including bullying prevention, to prepare them for their unique role.
The ideal person to lead an SRO program has an excellent understanding of how schools operate, is willing to guide law enforcement services that are significantly different than traditional police roles, and has a great deal of patience combined with exceptional interpersonal communication skills. Above all else, this role requires a team player who can work effectively with a wide range of disciplines including education, mental health, emergency management, public health, and court officials.
Officers who have a keen desire to make a difference in the lives of children are crucial to program success. SROs must have an advanced understanding of issues relating to child development, search and seizure, legal restrictions on sharing of information, and emergency preparedness measures. In addition, SROs must be able to interact closely with school and mental health professionals as they seek preventive and proactive solutions to a wide array of problems.
Training and Duties
All SROs should receive quality training in a variety of topical areas to prepare them for their unique role. Training should include instruction in the duties of school resource officers, school search and seizure, multidisciplinary threat assessment, school emergency operations planning, how to conduct tactical site surveys, crime prevention through environmental design, bullying prevention, crisis response and recovery, child development, and the operation of security equipment used in the district.
Monitoring schools is just one of many ways SROs keep children and the community safer. They often assist other law enforcement units as well.
Like police officers in a number of other countries, the role of the SRO is far more focused on prevention than the typical police assignment. This often requires officers to perform functions that are typically thought of as security work. Many SROs conduct entry point or random metal detection, work fixed posts during specific times, and perform other duties that are new to most police officers. While these duties may not seem glamorous to many officers, they have prevented countless violent assaults and deaths in schools. Keep in mind what duties your SRO unit will be charged with so you can create the type of program best suited to your community. Departments across the country benefit from SRO assistance for a wide range of tasks. The idea of making SROs available to supplement local agencies is also a good way to convince your chief and the local community to create an SRO program at your department.
Chief Russell Bentley of the Bibb County (Ga.) Public School Police Department in says his department's SROs are invaluable as conduits between police services and the school community. Whether a separate school district police force like his unit or a team within a local police agency, SRO programs can ensure a smooth flow of critical information to and from the larger police community and among students, staff, and parents. They can also create a stronger bond among all parties.
Starting and running a successful SRO program requires dedication from officers as well as support from the community.
Bentley knows of what he speaks. The most widely known and modeled SRO program in the nation, his department's techniques are now in use in most SRO programs in the United States as well as in more than 20 other nations. When many Bibb County students were agitated following an incident of police brutality involving another law enforcement agency, Bibb School Police officers went from classroom to classroom talking with thousands of students in an effort to help avert violence in the community. By showing genuine concern for their well being they hoped to make the students understand that cops are the good guys.
Lt. Don Fountain with the Okaloosa County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office has found that this kind of approach works. He has seen the results as the president of the Florida Association of School Resource Officers and through actively working in his agency's SRO unit for more than eight years. He has found a well-run SRO unit can help build a strong rapport with students and the community, which can correct misperceptions about the agency and repair strained relations.
But school resource officers don't just sit on the sidelines and offer comforting words. They take an active role in keeping schools safe, even taking on other agencies' duties when necessary.