Currently, thirty percent of schools employ a School Resource Officer (SRO). However, an SRO is a relatively new position for a school. Also, answering the question “what is a school resource officer?” is complex. That’s because SROs take on multiple roles in a school setting. They’re a triad: part teacher, part counselor and part fully-trained law enforcement officer.
Law Enforcement Officer
No federal rules set SRO qualifications. Instead, the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) suggests 40 hours of training in school policing. Additionally, NASRO offers a training program for SROs. However, SROs aren’t security guards. Instead, they’re sworn law enforcement officers. As such, schools need to consider if an officer should take on the unique position of an SRO.
SROs spend every day supporting the student body. Therefore, they take on a counselor’s role. The position requires rigorous emotional support for students. Indeed, SROs should both be approachable and willing to invest in the students they protect. Informal training in counseling prepares SROs for emotionally fraught situations.
An SRO also teaches students how to protect themselves. SROs use classroom time to teach citizenship, student’s rights, and positive behaviors. In this way, SROs work alongside principals, teachers and other school administrators. Together, they all encourage students to grow into the best adults they can be.
Because of the job’s unique demands, an SRO should be selected from a volunteer group of officers passionate about students’ mental and emotional welfare. Furthermore, they provide security both through their reassuring presence and emergency preparedness skills.
Computer Monitoring and Alerts: A Key Companion to SRO Programs
Like any school employee, an SRO’s ability to keep students safe depends upon accurate, immediate, and reliable information. This is especially true when it comes to threats of school violence. Therefore, computer monitoring systems like LearnSafe are key to an SRO’s success. LearnSafe, a program distributed by SlateXP, screens computer communications for threats. SlateXP now offers an additional service vital to school safety. If LearnSafe identifies a picture or some language that conveys a threat against a student, a teacher, or the school in general, SROs get a message over e-mail and text message.
Currently, the Mobile Public School System uses the LearnSafe system as well as SlateXP’s automatic alert tool. Andy Gatewood, who serves as the system’s Director of Security, stresses the importance of alerts to threats that need prompt attention. In an interview with Mobile County Public Schools’ The Wire, Gatewood states that “[…] the general nature of the program makes kids in schools safer by allowing us to be proactive in stopping an incident before it happens.”
Text by Annika Bastian