Blog: The Educated Reporter

Word on the Beat: School Resource Officer
After Maryland campus shooting, armed staff in spotlight

What it means: The definition and assigned duties of a school resource officer (SRO) can vary widely, although many schools — particularly at the secondary level – have some version of the staff position. In certain districts, schools call anyone on campus with security responsibilities the SRO, and many are unarmed. At the other end of the spectrum, some states require SROs to undergo the same police academy training as sworn peace officers. That was the case in Parkland, Florida — home to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — where the SROs are also deputies of the county sheriff’s office.

Why it matters: SROs are an important piece of the national debate over school safety, and were assigned to both campuses in the two most recent school shootings. Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the federal STOP School Violence Act, authorizing $50 million annually for school safety through 2028. An additional $25 million would be allocated to help “harden” schools against potential shooters, including with armed guards. (The bill doesn’t call for arming teachers, although the language doesn’t prohibit districts from using federal funds to do so.)

Who’s talking about it: On Tuesday, a gunman opened fire and injured two students at Great Mills High School in Maryland, before being confronted by the SRO assigned to the campus, according to media reports. The SRO was also a trained SWAT officer, according to media reports. This development is likely to bolster calls by some lawmakers and advocates to add more armed guards to public schools. At the same time, the SRO assigned to Stoneman Douglas has been criticized for not entering the school immediately following the first reports of shots being fired last month. Seventeen people died in the shooting and another 25 were seriously injured.

How many schools have SROs? No one knows for sure, in part because there’s no federal requirement that districts or states keep track, according to the National Association of School Resource Officers. However, a 2015 report by the U.S. Department of Education found that 30 percent of public schools — close to 30,000 campuses — reported having at least one part-time or full-time SRO. The U.S. Department of Justice currently provides guidance and resources to local districts for SROs who, in addition to fulfilling law enforcement duties, “serve as educators, emergency managers, and informal counselors.”

Want to know more? Take a look at EWA’s resources on school climate and safety. Writing for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Patrick O’Donnell looked at the stats on SROs in Ohio. In a recent takeout, The New York Times profiled SROs in several states, and looked at the complexities of the job duties.

“They have to be a mentor — a kind, caring, trusting adult, the nice police officer who will give you a high-five and ask you how your day is going,” said John McDonald, the security chief for the Jefferson County school district in Colorado, according to The New York Times. “And very quickly they have to become a tactical cop. That switch is not for everybody. The ability to do that is very difficult.”

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