Like any other morning, the school resource officer leaned comfortably against the wall near the main entrance, responding to and calling out greetings with the arriving students. Like any other morning, some answered, some ignored him, and they all rushed on past, anxious to get to their lockers, to meet their friends, to get to class.
Except on this morning, one girl hesitated, walked past, came to a stop and slowly walked back. And soon, the SRO had details about a planned cafeteria fight between two squabbling groups of eighth-grade boys.
And all it took to get that information was eight months of “good mornings.”
In a two-part series available online, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) interviewed experts in school security, who pointed out that one of the most important aspects of being a good SRO is playing a part in fostering a healthy school climate, and it can all start with something as simple as greeting students by name. Following that and some of the other simple tips provided can help SROs build trusting relationships. Those trusting relationships can in turn help create a healthy school climate with reduced tolerance for bullying and violent conflict resolution, and a greater likelihood of students’ reporting threats and suspicious behavior. These tips come from the second article, “School Resource Officers and Violence Prevention: Best Practices Part Two,” found on the FBI website at https://leb.fbi.gov/articles/featured-articles/school-resource-officers-and-violence-prevention-best-practices-part-two. Part One, located at (https://leb.fbi.gov/articles/featured-articles/school-resource-officers-and-violence-prevention-best-practices-part-one), provides basic information on how schools and law enforcement can work together to establish strong working partnerships.
The two articles grew out of a follow-on effort to the 2013 Comprehensive School Safety Program, a U.S. Department of Justice funding incentive for more schools to hire SROs. Realizing that these new SROs needed training and support, FBI staff interviewed a group of SROs with more than 150 years of combined experience, then compiled the results of these individual interviews with research to produce the two-part series. The FBI also summarized the key points from both articles in a new free guide, Violence Prevention in Schools: Enhancement Through Law Enforcement Partnerships (https://www.fbi.gov/file-repository/violence-prevention-in-schools-march-2017.pdf/view.)
“We’ve been working since 2013 on the whole concept of how to make not only schools, but everyone in the nation, safer. This effort has allowed us to target the group that serves schools and provide them with best practices,” says the FBI’s Katherine Schweit, co-author of the articles. “Many of the SROs who we interviewed were recommended by the U.S. Department of Education, and the group includes some of the finest and most forward-leaning officers working in the field. It’s important for the FBI to look for best practices conducted by the people who know the business. There’s no better resource for us to go to.”
And when it comes to establishing a good working partnership between law enforcement and school administration, some of the key points noted by those subject-matter experts included determining a school’s specific needs, involving the administration in selecting the officer and writing a memorandum of understanding that outlines roles, responsibilities and duties. SROs also need specialized training in school policing, covering areas such as privacy, search and seizure, and information sharing laws regarding juveniles; being sensitive to cultural and linguistic differences; problem-solving skills; and threat assessment. School discipline and code of conduct policies, and access to services such as drug and substance abuse treatment, mental health services and diversion programs, are also key (more details can be found in Part One.)
“I think the idea of how to communicate with the school officials themselves to set up a quality SRO program is something that hasn’t been put out before,” Schweit says. “And we tried to ensure that the article provided concepts for school policing whether your school district has a full budget for SROs or simply officers working with schools on a more limited basis. I think that will be very helpful because it’s broad based. We didn’t want to create an ideal plan for school resource officers that many districts couldn’t afford to execute. We wanted a plan that all schools could use regardless of their budget.”
Regardless of whether the relationship is a full-time one, or one where officers stop by schools as part of their patrol duties, good communication plays a key role in success. It’s also important to maintain a distinction between school disciplinary matters and actual violations of the law; Part One points out that “School administrators and teachers, guided by district and school rules and procedures, hold responsibility for disciplinary actions, while the SRO addresses legal violations and threats to the security of the school, students, and employees.”
Schweit adds to that by saying: “It’s not unusual for an outsider who doesn’t deal with school discipline matters to say the easy answer is to call the police officer. But it’s just exactly like a home situation: you discipline your child, you don’t call the police.”
Once that relationship is in place and the officer’s duties are clearly understood, the tips in Part Two come into greater play. Using the healthy school climate and their role in establishing it as a basis, SROs can help schools in areas such as crisis response training and bullying prevention. Part Two notes that although rates of violence in schools continue to decline, 65 percent of schools still report incidents of serious violent crimes such as use of weapons, robberies and sexual assaults. Confidential/anonymous reporting mechanisms can help bring threats to the attention of SROs and administrators, and threat assessment teams can use established policies and procedures to address them, but it all starts with promoting and maintaining a healthy school climate.
“I think it’s easy for anyone to say it’s important to keep track of the kids and to make sure that they’re not at risk, but those are just concepts. I think the officers provided us with very practical ideas based on their experience with students, and that’s one of the things I think is most valuable about this project,” Schweit says. “We hope this will be a valuable resource, and we’ll continue the effort as an ongoing project.”
For more information on FBI efforts in the area of school safety, please contact the FBI’s Office of Public Engagement at FBI_OPE_Information_Sharing@ic.fbi.gov.