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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
The arrival of COVID-19 changed the way that businesses and institutions operated, as they moved swiftly to curb the spread of the virus amidst a global pandemic. Many terminated in-person activities, leaving employees working from home—with inevitable impact on their roles. One of many groups affected by the shift to remote and virtual operations was school resource officers—career law enforcement officers assigned in a community policing capacity to a local educational agency. Normally, “SROs work in collaboration with schools and community-based organizations to provide a positive and visible law enforcement presence on school campuses.”1 With many school districts closing schools and opting for virtual instruction, however, SROs’ roles in schools had to change, at least temporarily. Many SROs were reassigned while schools remain closed.
Now, however, after being closed for over a year, schools have reopened, or begun planning to reopen, for in-person instruction in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance. With schools reopening, SROs will now have the added responsibility of making health, and COVID protections in particular, a priority with students and staff daily.
Don Bridges, a Maryland SRO with over 20 years of experience, provided some insight on what the post–COVID-19 landscape would look like. According to Bridges, education will be key in aiding students in developing a sense of normalcy. SROs will be found in classrooms teaching students about social distancing, expanding their roles as educators beyond crime prevention and into a broader realm of personal safety. In preparation for this shift, Bridges reports that many SROs have received youth education training from the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO).
On the importance of daily interactions with staff and students, Mr. Bridges notes that before COVID-19, SROs would engage students physically with high-fives and hugs—interactions that he believes strengthened the bond between students and SROs. Many students thrive on physical interaction; as a result, finding innovative ways to show students they care through their interactions will need to be a priority for all SROs. As one example, Bridges described the scene of students running to hug each other—and SROs and other staff—in their excitement after returning from an ordinary summer break.
He anticipates that the length of time students have been out of school will have only increased their desire to connect physically with the people they have missed; however, due to COVID-19, many types of physical interaction will have to be discouraged, at least temporarily. It will be important for SROs to communicate these changes to students delicately to help them adjust to new safety procedures without feeling unwanted.
When asked about some of the preventative measures being taken by schools, Mr. Bridges stated, “In Baltimore County, the CDC guidance is being followed. Schools are being fitted with air purifiers, sanitation stations, hand wipes, and posters to provide students with the tools to prevent the spread of COVID and educate them about new rules and precautions.” He further noted that he has never in his career seen such large stockpiles of cleaning and hygiene materials in the Baltimore County schools as they have amassed in preparation for reopening. This to him indicates that schools are taking reopening safely seriously. Overall, Bridges believes the largest difference in SROs’ roles in the coming school year will be in implementing an additional layer of safety for students and staff through ensuring that all students adhere to CDC guidelines. “Once the new normal is established,” however, Bridges says, “it will be business as usual.”
For more information on best practices, visit the NASRO Resources and Best Practices resource page.
1 School Resource Officers and School-based Policing (Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, 2019), https://cops.usdoj.gov/pdf/SRO_School_Policing_Factsheet.pdf.
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