School resource officers are becoming more common throughout the United States – and are much more than just police in the hallways at school.
Although law and order are an important part of their job, school resource officers go beyond law enforcement to be an educator and counselor, and to work with teachers and the school community to help keep the students safe.
As a key part of a school safety plan, this police officer is the first one to respond in the event of any school emergency, such as a fire, tornado, explosion, shooting, or accident. Job duties are likely to encompass more routine canvassing of the school campus and addressing any issues observed. The school resource officer must investigate illegal drug and alcohol use by the students and make any necessary arrests. School resource officers are also charged with handling any criminal matters, guarding against intruders to the school, and responding to any criminal problems involving students off school grounds. Some school resource officers deal with truancy issues, operate metal detectors and other security devices, and monitor the students both in the hallways and while crossing streets leaving the school for home. School resource officers are not disciplinarians for the school and do not get involved with students who violate school rules, such as cheating on a test. They step in only if the action is a criminal offense. “We must ensure that school discipline is being handled by trained educators, not by law enforcement officers,” cautioned U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr.
Education and Counseling
As part of their dual role, school resource officers also work with teachers and the community regarding safety issues. They are trained in counseling and handling issues such as bullying and act as a liaison between students and social services to support them. Teachers can turn to them with a concern about a student who might benefit from building a relationship with the officer. School resource officer Justin Schlottman, who works at Cedar Crest High School in Pennsylvania, reported in an article in “The Teacher’s Lounge” that “every student is fighting a daily battle that we know nothing about. We may think that student behavior at any given moment is driven by something trivial, but it often has much deeper roots than what’s visible on the surface.” The police officer can also educate faculty, students, and parents by conducting classes on the skills and principles required for responsible citizenship and awareness of alcohol and drugs, or gangs and strangers. High school students can gain valuable information about crimes such as sexual assault, shoplifting, vandalism, or motor vehicle violations so that they can understand the laws and avoid criminal activity.
Being a school resource officer is not an easy job, but it has become an important one in most schools. Officer Schlottman at Cedar Crest High School hopes building relationships with students, staff, and visitors allows them to feel that the school is safe. “When students graduate from my school, they don’t just remember me as a uniform, badge, and gun, but as someone who was there for them in their emergency, no matter how big or small.”