Strategy Law enforcement agencies can open lines of communication between police officers and students by placing a police officer…
Law enforcement agencies can open lines of communication between police officers and students by placing a police officer in the school.
Community Problem Addressed
Incidents of school violence like those in Littleton, Colorado, and Conyers, Georgia, have been more frequent. Many schools throughout the country are turning to school resource officers as a preventative measure against school violence.
Stationing a police officer in schools encourages positive interactions between police officers and youth, which fosters good communication between the two groups. Many young people are wary of developing friendly relationships with law enforcement officers. By working closely with schools and students, law enforcement officers can address problems identified by young people and help diffuse potentially violent situations.
Some law enforcement agencies assign officers to serve as a liaison with schools and the neighborhoods surrounding schools. School resource officers maintain contact with school personnel and with student leaders to build trust. They also watch for crime and vandalism, and follow up on incidents. In addition, they take incident reports and follow up on information on potential crime threats provided to them by students and staff. Officers often attend PTA meetings and back-to-school or open house events. School liaisons also make presentations to classes on law enforcement and safety issues.
Law enforcement can be effective school-based partners not only with students and teachers, but also with school support staff. School bus drivers, crossing guards, and food service employees are frequently aware of problems in neighborhoods or among young people.
Administrators, teachers, and staff usually encourage the presence of law enforcement officers in a school, believing that their presence helps protect all who use the building from crime and violence. Parents aware of the program usually support it fully and can be powerful advocates to cover the costs of assigning law enforcement personnel to the school. Law enforcement agencies and school systems often share the cost of the officer’s salary.
In some communities, school officials may be reluctant to have uniformed law enforcement personnel present at schools, fearing that the school atmosphere will appear less open and more concerned about crime. It may take time to develop a comfortable relationship with school officials and neighborhood residents. One strategy to overcome this obstacle is to set up meetings with officials and neighborhood leaders in an informal setting, just to get acquainted and learn about each other. Developing a mutually beneficial partnership may take several meetings.
In addition, some principals may be reluctant to turn over elements of disciplinary control, even to trained police officers. Partnerships among school officials and law enforcement in planning the roles and responsibilities of officers can help address such concerns.
Many districts have difficulty finding funds to support assigning law enforcement personnel to schools. Supplemental funds from the school district or law enforcement agency can remedy this situation. Making funding for a school resource officer a permanent part of the police budget is also a possibility.
Examples of Success and Results
In 1999, the local police department in Watertown, South Dakota [population 20,000], placed a school liaison officer in the town’s middle school as a preventative measure against juvenile crime and school violence. A police officer patrols the school Monday through Friday for half-days.
The school liaison program has increased the visibility of police officers, opened lines of communication, and educated students on law enforcement’s role in the community. The school liaison officer is available to all students for questions and answers, which gives students an increased comfort with police officers. The officer also makes presentations to classes on safety issues and reasons for certain laws and police actions.
The Watertown Police Department conducted a survey in the school that reported “overwhelmingly positive student reactions” to the program, according to Officer Burt Seifel; students “like having an officer on campus.” The short survey asked students such questions as “Do students feel safer with the police presence?” and “Is the police officer approachable?” Placing a school liaison on campus provides increased positive interactions between students and law enforcement.
The Sheriffs Assisting Youth (SAY) program was developed by the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Department in 1984, based on the school resource officer program begun in Los Angeles, California. A full-time deputy sheriff is based in each high school in the county, and not only is responsible for policing the campus and investigating any problems, but also is responsible for teaching students. Using a curriculum developed by the department, the deputies teach one period a day in a variety of settings, including health classes (effects of drugs) and political science/law classes (court decisions, laws). The officers also act as SAY officers in the junior high schools and elementary schools that feed their high school. Deputies working in Riverton, Utah [population 11,621], develop close relationships with the students they see every day and become the mentors that some youth desperately need. The SAY program is funded through the sheriff’s department’s budget and the curriculum is now used in counties throughout the state.