School Resource Officers

Author: Jessica Terrizzi

Published: Sep 12 2022

Last Edit: Sep 12 2022

(20 min read)


Imagine this: You’re a high school teacher who has just started homeroom. It is a normal school day and you’re about to begin taking attendance when you notice that your class seems restless. All of a sudden you realize that one of your students is whispering frantically on the phone, completely disregarding your no phone policy. As the teacher, you feel annoyed and disrespected, but you don’t even have time to recognize these feelings before the door to your classroom explodes open. Before you know it, a girl who you have never seen before is on top of your student, and the whole class has broken into chaos. You freeze and feel completely unable to control the situation. By now, several other teachers and students have appeared to look in on the spectacle. After what feels like eternity, another teacher is able to defuse the situation, both girls are escorted away, and the police are called. You later learn that the girl who attacked your student is not even a student at the school. To your horror, you realize that she was able to enter the school without a problem, and that no one is there to secure the school from incidents like this. 

Problems like this are not uncommon, and there seems to be a concerning amount of violence in schools recently, as well as the destruction of school property. In order to prevent the aforementioned issues and to ensure safety, many schools have opted to hire school resource officers (SROs). Through knowing some SROs personally, I can think of several incidents in which SROs had to intervene for the safety of students and faculty, including drug related issues, destruction of property (have you heard of the diabolical lick challenge?) and unauthorized individuals entering the school. The implementation of SROs, however, has not been without controversy; and, there have certainly been some problems related to having police officers in schools.

The National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) reports that there are currently about 14,000-20,000 SROs within schools across the country. Including both public and private schools, it is estimated that approximately 20% of schools in the United States have SROs (NASRO, n.d.). SROs are law enforcement officers who are placed in schools in order to enhance student safety and to protect the school’s property. As stated by the NASRO (2012), the role of these individuals is to: enforce the law, mentor students, and teach.

The Controversy

There has been growing criticism of SROs within schools in recent years, though, partly due to incidents that have occurred between SROs and students (Ryan et al., 2018).  For me, the most prominent example of this is an incident that occurred with an SRO and a female student in South Carolina, where an SRO was filmed using excessive physical force against a female student who refused to give up her cell phone. Concerns about the school-to-prison pipeline , unclear roles (officers dealing with student misbehavior), and lack of training figure prominently in discussions about police officers being in schools. Among many different courses of action taken to resolve this problem, there recently has been a movement to remove SROs from schools in several places. As one officer mentions in their interview, Arlington, Virginia is one location that chose this course of action. The response to this controversy has been varied, and some schools have decided to remove their SROs, while others have opted to keep them.

Related to these criticisms, some solutions have been offered to remedy the current problem with police officers in schools, including avoiding the use of SROs to handle student misconduct, and improving the training of SROs to include topics such as behavior management, child development, communication techniques, and disability awareness. Another potential solution includes creating a memorandum of understanding in order to specify the roles and responsibilities of SROS (Ryan et al., 2018). While solutions have been discussed, it seems that this problem is far from being resolved.  In order to gain a better understanding of the controversies around this topic, as well as possible solutions to the problems related to their roles, I decided to have conversations with several SROs regarding their unique perspectives. 

What follows are the answers provided by active-duty SROs to my questions about their work. Their responses have been lightly edited.

What led you to become an SRO? How do/did you like working in this position?

How do you feel about public criticism of SROs and do you think that it is warranted? Related, what has it been like to work as an SRO when this job is so highly criticized?

Based on your personal experience, do you feel that schools are safer with SROs? What would you say to those who argue that students are not safer with an SRO in their school?

Concerns have been raised about unclear expectations for SROS… According to the NASRO (2012), SROs are intended to enforce the law, mentor students, and teach. What do you think the role of an SRO should be? Are there any other roles that you have filled in your position as an SRO?

Some school districts have opted to remove SROs from schools in order to deal with the controversy surrounding police officers in schools. What do you see as a solution to the concerns raised about SROs in schools?

Concluding Thoughts

The subject of law enforcement officers within schools is a widely debated problem, and I have recently heard discussions about this on the radio, and read discussions/articles about it on the internet. A simple google search of the phrase “school resource officers” yields an overwhelming amount of results ranging from 2 hours ago, to two weeks ago. By sharing what I learned in my conversations with SROs, I hope to add some clarity to this debate and share useful information on this topic to help further the discussion. I also would like to thank the SROs who took the time out of their busy schedules to speak to me for this post!

Jessica Terrizzi, M.A.

Ph.D Student in Counseling Psychology

Jess is a 4th year doctoral student at the University of Akron. She has a strong interest in law enforcement due to her family’s extensive background in policework. Through experiences with family and friends who are in this field, Jess has recognized a need for applying psychology to law enforcement through both research and the development of wellness programs. Jess also has an interest in researching both masculinity and trauma, and plans on working with police officers in the clinical setting.


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