Home > Uncategorized > Are School Resource Officers the Answer? Or Would “Greeters” Do a Better Job?

Are School Resource Officers the Answer? Or Would “Greeters” Do a Better Job?

A recent NY Times article provided a balanced article on the roles and responsibilities of a School Resource Officer (SRO) that illustrated how one particularly effective officer interacted with the students in the school where she was assigned. It opened with this heartwarming description of an SRO in Alabama:

Maple syrup gumming up the gun belt isn’t normally a hazard of police work. But it is a common problem for Cpl. Pamela Revels when students have been eating pancakes at the school breakfast.

“Kids like to come up and give you a little bit of a hug,” Corporal Revels said. “They don’t wipe their hands that well.”

Ms. Revels freely dispenses hugs and smiles at the schools where she works around Auburn, Ala.

Later in the article, it references “the triad” of responsibilities an SRO assumes: counselor, teacher, law enforcement officer. It elaborates on that role with this paragraph:

“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, the security chief for the Jefferson County, Colo., school district, which includes Columbine High. “And very quickly they have to become a tactical cop. That switch is not for everybody. The ability to do that is very difficult.”

And, as the article goes on to note, the desire to do perform that role is not predominant among police officers, most of whom signed on to become police because they wanted to catch “bad guys” and not counsel or teach children. Consequently, SROs are often not viewed by their peers as the “cream of the crop”… and in too many cases, as was the case in the recent Florida shootings, they are seen as ineffective.

Mac Hardy, director of operations for the national organization, said bad school resource officers fall into three categories — “hostages,” those who are ordered to work in schools; “retirees,” older officers who are nursing their pensions; and “vacationers” who like having school holidays off, though many work as regular patrol officers during the summer.

“You’ve been on the job 20 years and we’ve got to park you someplace. We’re going to put you in a school,” Mr. McDonald said, describing the attitude he said some departments have. “That’s much less of an effective model. We want go-getters.”

But “go getters” in the police force are not likely to gravitate to SRO positions… and even if they are they will need training to be effective counselors and teachers, training that currently seems insufficient. As the Times article notes:

Nationally, there are no specific training requirements for the job, although the National Association of School Resource Officers recommends that officers complete a 40-hour course that includes emergency plans for schools, de-escalation techniques and academic work, including studying the adolescent brain. Since most officers are members of their local forces, they also receive the same shooting training their colleagues do.

Worse, as Luke Darby’s article in GQ and a recent ACLU study indicates, “go-getters” often seek arrests and convictions for behaviors that are often typical of school children, especially young adolescents.

Here’s my thought: instead of spending millions to hire police who are reluctant to work as counselors and teachers, why not use those dollars to hire retired teachers, counselors, or social workers to serve as “greeters” at schools. These trained educators and care providers could welcome children as they enter school each day and, using their experience, identify the children who are downcast, alienated, and in need of attention. Once children are in school the “greeters” could serve as gatekeepers at the entry to the school, ensuring that those who have gained entry are guided to the appropriate office within the school. They can also use their knowledge of the community to identify potential problems that they observe on the street, parking lot, or playgrounds. In the unlikely chance they encounter a problem that requires police intervention they could call 911.

This solution, which might seem naive to those who are convinced that gunmen who are hostile to children are pervasive in every community in the nation, would augment the counseling staff and administrators by providing a caring adult who is knowledgeable of the community, the day-to-day operation of the school, and the behavior of the children. Better yet, it would forge or reinforce partnerships between local law enforcement and schools without unduly burdening either of their payrolls. And best of all, it would convey a message to students that the focus of their school is care-giving and not protection.

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