By John Rosiak, Principal and Founder of Prevention Partnerships
The Center for Health and Health Care in Schools has a core focus on the important work of connecting schools to resources and organizations that can improve health outcomes of students. There are many different partners in our communities that can support our schools in the effort to keep students healthy and safe. A critical partner—particularly in these times of heightened security—is law enforcement. Many communities are rushing to put law enforcement officers in schools as a way to increase safety. But before posting officers on campus, it is important that schools, law enforcement, policymakers, as well as other community partners look at the many issues involved, so that communities can make a thoughtful decision.
There are many differing opinions about how to make schools safer and placing law enforcement officers in schools is a particularly contentious issue. School boards, school administrators, and law-enforcement partners, teachers, families, and mental health providers are exploring and debating whether it is helpful or detrimental and opinions are quite divergent. Some people feel strongly that we need sworn, local law-enforcement officers in schools, even if there is already a regular school security officer. Others feel that the money would be better spent on counselors, while others believe we need more of both. And some are worried that the addition of cops will increases arrests, with a disproportionate number of students of color and students with disabilities being impacted. Many recognize that the right officer, if well-chosen and well-trained, can develop essential positive relationships and contribute to a safe and healthy school climate.
The critical question regarding the question of law enforcement officers in our schools, is “how do we do it right?” It would be quite valuable if we had evidence-based research to guide our decisions, but unfortunately, there aren’t many rigorous studies. While the National Institute of Justice has recently funded a number of studies, the recommendations won’t be fully available for years. We do however, know what has worked when placing School Resource Officers (SROs) in schools since the 1950s. Last Fall I wrote a Commentary for Education Week, outlining five things to consider before placing law enforcement officers in schools, namely:
1) We must clearly define roles of the School Resource Officers.
2) We need to make sure that we select the most appropriate officers to work in our schools.
3) We must make sure the officers are adequately prepared (trained) for the job.
4) We should define policy for clearer and stronger partnerships with schools.
5) We must engage community partners to keep students safe.
The Parkland school shooting has brought this issue to the fore in a way that other tragedies at schools have not. It serves as a reminder that safety in schools is critical and should be thoughtfully addressed in a comprehensive way. Our kids deserve nothing less.
JOHN ROSIAK is an educator, trainer, and facilitator who has supported school/law-enforcement partnerships around the country since the 1980s. He is the founder and principal of Prevention Partnerships, www.rosiakassociates.com which provides training and technical assistance support to help school, law enforcement, mental health, and juvenile justice partners to break down silos to develop effective collaborative efforts for safer and healthier communities. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @JohnRosiak.
The content of this blog reflects the views of Mr. Rosiak alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Health and Health Care in Schools.