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August 2019 | Volume 12 | Issue 7

What is an SRO?

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Right now, in schools around the country, the presence of law enforcement is expanding like never before. But what governs these new arrangements? For that matter, what is governing the arrangements of existing programs? As school resource officer (SRO) programs around the country look inward at the important work that they do, examining the memorandum of understanding (MOU)—the guiding document for the SRO program—is essential.

An MOU can do a variety of things. On a basic level, it can serve the function of a “business agreement” clarifying the financial arrangement between a school district and law enforcement agency—in other words, who is covering the expenses for the SRO program. But a good MOU will go further than just the business agreement. It should outline and articulate the many best practices that SRO programs need to incorporate, including language about defining roles, selecting and training officers, engaging with the community, and more.

MOUs are not one-size-fits-all; they are agreements that should emerge from a collaborative process that includes stakeholders from education, law enforcement, and the wider community. This process can establish a common vision that meets the needs, goals, objectives, and safety challenges of the school and its community. It may even reference standard operating procedures (SOP) for the law enforcement agency working in the schools. In addition, MOUs should allow for adaptation to the evolving needs and goals of the community

Using an MOU checklist to guide the process

One way to strengthen the MOU for the SRO program is to use a checklist to guide its development or revision. Such a checklist can serve as a benchmark to prompt more complete consideration of the SRO program, which will be documented in the new or revised MOU.

The checklist should be a guide for the process the partnership should undergo in developing a thorough and vetted document that guides the school-based law enforcement partnership.

According to the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO), many of the items below are “mandatory” topics for SRO program best practices. These topics—which can be referenced in the MOU—come directly from NASRO’s Standards and Best Practices for School Resource Officer Programs. The examples below are brief for purposes of illustration. A thorough discussion should take place between the law enforcement and education partners about each item to reach agreement on them.

MOU checklist
  • Mission. The mission section should define the overarching purpose of the SRO program (e.g., to promote school safety and improve the educational environment). Some MOUs build on the mission by adding goals and objectives. The mission/goals/objectives statement should outline the purpose and expected outcomes of the SRO program.
    Example: The Police Department and School District, in order to ensure an efficient and cohesive SRO program, will build a positive relationship between law enforcement, students, and school employees. The goal of the program is to reduce crime, create a safe school environment, and provide a law enforcement resource to school administrators, teachers, and students.
  • SRO roles and responsibilities. Consider NASRO’s mandatory and recommended roles by reviewing the topics listed in the MOU section of its standards and practices. Included in the MOU should be a statement about the roles the SRO will NOT carry out, e.g., enforcing school discipline rules that are the prerogative of the school administrators.
    Example: SROs act in accordance with the recommended TRIAD roles of law enforcement officer, teacher, and informal counselor/mentor but do not enforce school rules or policies or become involved with matters that are strictly school discipline issues.
  • SRO supervision and evaluation. The MOU must spell out a clear chain of command for the SRO program. It is important for everyone to understand to whom the SRO reports.
    Example: The day-to-day operation and administrative control of the SRO program will be the responsibility of the Police Department.
  • SRO selection. SRO programs are built on the selection of qualified officers, chosen for their integrity, maturity, and willingness and ability to work with students and educators. The MOU should clearly spell out the selection process and include opportunities for input from school and community partners.
    Example: The SRO position will be filled according to the Police Department selection process. The Police Department will make the final selection of any SRO, in consultation with the School District.
  • Training. The document should make a statement about the basic and specialized training that SROs must receive.
    Example: The SRO position is considered a specialized assignment within the Police Department, requiring specialized training.
  • Engagement with the community. School safety is co-produced by law enforcement and the school community working collaboratively with community partners. Working with the broader community in proactive fashion is something that SRO programs support, but few MOUs actually make statements about building partnerships with community partners and how these partners can support and extend the school safety mission.
    Example: All parties involved in the SRO program will continually work on building and expanding existing community partnerships that help support the mission of safe and healthy schools. These community partnerships will provide resources that can help students (and their families) get the supports youth need to stay in school.
  • Information sharing. Information sharing is an essential issue to understand in the implementation of SRO programs. The purpose of information sharing is to help those with a legitimate interest to gain and share information they need to support a student. Different rules and regulations govern information sharing.
    Example: It is the understanding of both the School District and Police Department that confidentiality and a student’s right to privacy are of the utmost importance in the administration of these services. Therefore, student records shall be kept confidential in accordance with all applicable laws and professional standards.
  • Tracking SRO activities with data. Data collection is an important role for SRO programs to carry out.
    Example: To help monitor progress toward achieving safe schools, SROs will collect and provide data related to school safety.
  • Expenses. This section identifies how the SRO program costs are divided.
    Example: “The School District is responsible for payment to the Town in the amount of $XXXXX to reimburse the Town for a portion of the SRO’s salary.”
  • MOU review and revision. It is important to clarify any issues between the school and law enforcement agency on a regular, ongoing basis. In addition, it is helpful to define who should review the MOU, and how often.
    Example: The School District and Police Department should review the agreement on an annual basis.
  • Signatures. Completing the MOU requires that the partners determine who must sign the agreement. Additional signatures may be needed from others in the town/city/county.

Whether creating a new MOU or revising an existing MOU, school–law enforcement partnerships can find it helpful to use a checklist to make sure that their essential guiding document includes a variety of important ingredients. In that way—in the words of Ed Negron, former SRO supervisor and current Director of School Safety for Milwaukee Public Schools—"the MOU will be the most helpful and comprehensive tool as the partners work in good faith toward the common goal of building the most positive relationship between police and youth.”

John Rosiak, Principal, Prevention Partnerships
Rosiak Associates, LLC

Memorandum of Understanding Fact Sheet

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