Responding to School Tragedy: How to Integrate SROs into Campus-Safety Programs
By Dr. Amy Burkman and Dr. Vincent Giordano with American Public University
On Friday, December 13, 2013, a student opened fire in a quiet suburban Colorado high school just after noon. A mirror of many other school shootings that have taken place, this shooting ended quickly and with immense confusion and widespread fear.
Why had yet another student chosen to introduce senseless violence into his school and how effective was the school’s safety plan in minimizing injury and deaths from school violence?
As tragic as this event is, there is a silver lining. The violence, which could have ended in mass casualties, was limited to only two wounded. The quick end to the shooting is largely attributed to the presence and quick response of the school resource officer (SRO) assigned to that school.
In the last few years, schools have struggled to respond to violence on campus while also dealing with cuts to budgets and other resources. The SRO is viewed as a viable means for increasing school safety through the reduction of violence.
While the mere presence of an SRO may not be enough to prevent violence, in this case it seems to have minimized it. But is minimizing the impact of violence enough?
Michael Pittaro, a criminal justice faculty member at American Public University is concerned that, “we, as a country, are considering armed school resource officers, metal detectors, bullet proof glass windows, and secured doors in our schools. With the number of school shootings that have occurred, these preventative, yet reactive measures morph our schools into security controlled institutions.”
The question is raised: What role can the SRO play in providing a proactive response, rather than a reactive response, to school violence?
There are many things that schools districts can do to provide an environment where the SRO is able to be a proactive member of the campus safety team:
- Select the right person for the job. School authorities need to take an active role in building partnerships with the police departments that provide SROs. Choosing the correct SRO who can work with the students and families is a key component to a successful safety program.
- Include the SRO in the planning and development of school safety plans, education programs, and mentoring programs. The SRO is a trained professional who can provide important information and strategies on preventing violence.
- Create opportunities for the SRO to work with students who are at risk. Creating mentoring programs that use police officers or other school safety personnel can create a sense of community inside the school. By portraying the SRO as someone who can help rather than someone who is there to “catch” the kids provides opportunities for the students to approach the SRO with issues they might not otherwise share.
- Partner a school counselor or social worker with the SRO. If students approach the SRO with an issue outside of his/her experience, a collaborative partnership with other professionals in the school will ensure that the issue doesn’t get lost in translation.
- Don’t be afraid of an armed SRO! Student resource officers are trained police officers. Taking away the officer’s weapon leaves a campus at greater risk than allowing the weapon. There is little purpose to having an officer on campus who has minimal defenses to respond to shooters armed with guns, rifles, and explosives.
The National Association of School Resource Officers has the motto “To Protect and Educate.” Only through a positive relationship between SROs and campus leaders can the SRO maintain a proactive, supportive presence on campus aimed at the reduction of violence rather than simply minimizing it.
About the Authors:
Dr. Amy Burkman has over 15 years of experience as a K-12 educator, as a teacher, librarian and administrator. Dr. Burkman has also served as a professor of educational leadership, first in a part-time capacity and then full time, for the past seven years. In addition to working as an educator, she has also been a provider of professional development for the Texas Education Service Center for Region 11 and several school districts in Texas.
Dr. Vinnie Giordano worked in the field of substance abuse/ behavioral health for 11 years, 7 of which were with Operation PAR Inc. His experience includes working as a substance abuse counselor in a Department of Corrections funded youthful offender program, a counselor and supervisor for a 28-day residential and aftercare program, and as a clinical supervisor with the Pinellas Juvenile Assessment Center.