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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
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
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.
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.
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.
Example: The day-to-day operation and administrative control of the SRO program will be the responsibility of the Police Department.
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.
Example: The SRO position is considered a specialized assignment within the Police Department, requiring specialized training.
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.
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.
Example: To help monitor progress toward achieving safe schools, SROs will collect and provide data related to school safety.
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.”
Example: The School District and Police Department should review the agreement on an annual basis.
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
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