Three veteran school police and security administrators, in independent interviews this past week, each revealed three common threads of critical elements for successful school police and/or School Resource Officer (SRO) programs:
- Selecting the right officer: The officer must want to work in schools. There must be a “good fit” for the officer and the school. The officer must be effectively integrated into the school’s culture.
- Providing school-specific officer training: School-based police officers must be provided special training beyond the standard training provided in the police academy. Topics such as special education laws, school law, Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED), and school emergency-crisis planning are typically not on the agenda in regular police academy training.
- Communication and Educational Administration Support: Clear, strong, and ongoing communication between school-based law enforcement officers and school administrators must be maintained. Genuine support and buy-in for the program must be provided by the school administration and district leadership. Programs must be allowed to operate following best practices and with reasonable resources. School police and SRO program operations cannot be politicized.
The most appropriate form and structure of a program (SRO program with city/county law enforcement versus an in-house school police department, for example) will vary community-to-community.
Too often we see the focus on which structure is most appropriate rather than whether either format being considered will have in place the three critical elements above. We have seen solid SRO programs and bad ones. We have seen well-run school police departments and others with under-trained, poorly equipped, and questionably managed officers.
Is the school police department, SRO program, or school security department in your school district operating in accordance with best practices and the above criteria?