As School Threats Rise, Focus Grows on School Resource Officers

Since the Parkland FL school shooting, nearly 800 threats have been recorded against schools around the US. The spike in threats has underlined a growing debate about whether designated officers–some of whom may be armed–can improve school safety.

Will more school resource officers help deter tragedies like the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Fl.?

This often-overlooked role in law enforcement is under the national glare like never before, the New York Times reports.  Calls for additional school resource officers, a position that is a hybrid of counselor, educator and cop, have increased since the Parkland shooting, and perhaps no other job better personifies shifting ideas about schools, policing and safety.

The pressure has increased with reports since the shooting of nearly 800 threats against schools.  The Educator’s School Safety Network, which tracks reports of school threats and violent incidents, counted 797 as of Sunday. Most (743) were for threats of various kinds, including gun and bomb threats. The threats were made mostly via social media (331) and verbally (119), the Associated Press reports. 

That amounts to about a sevenfold increase in the usual rate, said the network’s Amy Klinger.

The number of school resource officers exploded in the community-oriented policing wave of the 1990s.  As of 2013, about 30 percent of schools had a resource officers. But 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.

“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.” 

Fifteen students in a Florida school district are facing felony charges and prison time for making threats since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre. 

“Kids make bad decisions and I think that in decades past those decisions would have been addressed behind closed doors with the principal and parents,” said Ken Trump of National School Safety and Security Services. “Now they’re being addressed behind closed doors in the police station and the courtroom.” 

The Volusia County Schools system in east-central Florida isn’t taking chances.

Sheriff Michael Chitwood made it clear he had a zero-tolerance policy as threats began after Parkland. He said students or their families would have to pay the costs of the investigations, at least $1,000 and sometimes much more. 

This summary was compiled by TCR staffer Megan Hadley. Readers’ comments are welcome.