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Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
Cops in schools: It’s a contentious issue in contemporary American society. School administrators and law-enforcement partners are concerned about it. But other partners—including teachers, counselors, other school staff members, and parents—are also thinking about the best ways to improve school safety. Some people feel that we desperately need to place a sworn, local law-enforcement officer in schools, in addition to regular school security officers. Others are wary that such appointments lead to increases in arrests, with a disproportionate impact on students of color and students with disabilities. If we have law-enforcement officers in our schools, how do we do it right?
Having worked at the nexus of education and law enforcement for more than 30 years by training School Resource Officers (SROs) in crime, drug, violence, and bullying prevention; and helping school administrators to develop effective policies and practices involving the use of law enforcement officers in schools, I have formed some observations and guiding questions that may help school and community leaders answer that question. Based on my experience working with some excellent SROs who really understand crime prevention and who do not want to arrest students, I believe police officers can be an important addition to our schools. From my experience training many SROs around the country, I know that we can establish the right climate of safety that is conducive to learning—if we employ well-trained officers who genuinely like working with students.
As in any other field, we should be using evidence-based programs and approaches when it comes to school-based law enforcement. The problem is that there isn’t a whole lot of rigorous research to guide us. The federal National Institute of Justice recently sponsored a number of studies that will inform our practice, but that research is ongoing involving studies over multiple years. However, we have had SROs in schools since the 1950s and have learned important things about how to do it right. Here’s what we know:
The choice about whether to have law-enforcement officers in schools is an important local decision that should be weighed by educators, law enforcement, parents, and other community stakeholders. Those collaborators should carefully consider these lessons to guide them in the process. In doing so, local communities can give our students the supports they need to stay in school—and out of the criminal-justice system.
By John Rosiak
This article was also featured in Education Week
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.
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