The ‘Triad’ of School Resource Officer Roles

The ranks of school resource officers, found in 30 percent of schools as of 2013, had thinned. After the Parkland, Fl., shooting, some schools are adding such officers, whose job is a hybrid of counselor, educator and cop.

For millions of students, the first adult they see at school is not a teacher or principal but a “school resource officer,”  an often-overlooked role in law enforcement that is under the national glare like never before, the New York Times reports. Their duties range from perking up sullen students to directing bus traffic to settling disputes to keeping an eye out for threats. Questions swirl over whether the officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fl., failed to do his job when he remained outside on Feb. 14 while a former student, Nikolas Cruz, shot 17 people to death. The position is a hybrid of counselor, educator and cop, and perhaps no other job better personifies shifting ideas about schools, policing and safety. Their numbers exploded in the community-oriented policing wave of the 1990s. As budgets tightened, their ranks thinned. Now there are calls for installing more of them in schools, with new positions announced in many districts last week.

School officers around the U.S. speak of performing multiple adult roles, alternating between nurturing and authoritative, with a guiding philosophy known as “the triad” — counselor, teacher, law enforcement officer. “They have to be a mentor — a kind, caring, trusting adult, the nice police officer who will give you a high-five and ask you how your day is going,” said John McDonald, school security chief for Jefferson County, Co., which includes Columbine. “And very quickly they have to become a tactical cop. That switch is not for everybody. The ability to do that is very difficult.” There are no training requirements. The National Association of School Resource Officers recommends that officers take a 40-hour course that includes emergency plans, de-escalation techniques and academic work, including studying the adolescent brain. About 30 percent of schools had an officer as of 2013.