Do Resource Officers Really Make Schools Safer?

About 30 percent of schools already have them, and President Trump and other advocates want more. Critics say there is no evidence that more officers mean safer schools.

School-based policing is one of the fastest growing areas of law enforcement. After the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fl., many people — including President Trump — said there should be school resource officers inside every school. That has rekindled a debate over the role of police in schools and the effect they have on students and school safety, NPR reports. Advocates believe school resource officers can best handle any threats. Critics say their presence creates unintended consequences like suspensions, expulsions and arrests — especially for students of color. School resource officers (SROs) are sworn police officers and not security guards. It’s not a lame assignment or a job for a cop looking for a cushy job before retirement, says Mac Hardy of the National Association of School Resource Officers.

The group estimates there are between 14,000 and 20,000 officers in 30 percent of schools. Those numbers began to grow after the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. There is no evidence to show that expanding law enforcement by adding SROs results in safer schools, says Marc Schindler of the Justice Policy Institute. “In fact, the data really shows otherwise — that this is largely a failed approach in devoting a significant amount of resources but not getting the outcome in school safety that we are all looking for,” he says. The Florida school had a school resource officer during the shooting. The county sheriff said he remained outside in a defensive position during the shooting – a response that was roundly criticized and is part of the debate over whether having officers make schools safer. Outside his old high school in Chicago, Antonio Magic, 19, says if SROs are supposed to build relationships with students, they often don’t do a good job of it. “The only time I seen police interacting with students,” says Magic, “was when students were being arrested.”