The onboarding process for teachers is critical in schools, but equally important is the incorporation of School Resource Officers (SROs) into your school community. Not only are they the first line of defense in case of an emergency, they can also help the school in many other ways. The success of an SRO in your building requires preplanning with both staff and the officer. Finding a balance between enforcement and community relations can positively impact the school, students, and community. Here are some ways you can make sure that your SRO becomes a valuable and appreciated person in your school community.
Define roles and expectations for the SRO and staff.
Before the officer arrives, make sure you have clear roles and expectations not only for the SRO but your staff as well. Communication is key. Develop a plan with the SRO, defining their role. The SRO should not be involved with discipline issues. You should have clear guidelines in place so teachers do not use the officer as the “boogeyman” or the classroom disciplinarian. Staff must realize that the officer is there to ensure safety and will only intervene when a criminal act has been committed.
Brush up on school law and legal statutes.
Staff should be up to date on search and seizure laws as well as First Amendment rights. Schools often have more rights to search than the officer, who must have probable cause. You don’t want to put your officer in a compromising position.
Remember that SROs are law enforcement officers, not school staff.
A school resource officer, by federal definition, is a career law enforcement officer with sworn authority who is deployed by an employing police department in a community-oriented policing assignment to work in collaboration with one or more schools. Your SRO is an important part of your school community, but remember, they work for the police department. Once you have turned something over to the officer, let them handle the issue. Officers have discretion in some cases and not much in others, and this can vary by department. This applies to mental health holds, suicide-risk assessments, and safety risks. Once you have handed the issue over, let the SRO take control.
Don’t treat the SRO officer like you would a school social worker or psychologist.
Remember that the officer is going to view situations differently, based on their training. Make sure the mental-health support staff in your school understands the rules governing your state on mental-health holds, suicide-risk assessments, and safety-risk assessments. Officers can assist but must also follow the laws of their jurisdiction.
Introduce the SRO to staff and students.
Ensure that staff and students see the SRO as more than an enforcer. The SRO should be invited to functions and events. They might not attend, but this will show staff and students that the SRO is an integral part of the community. Set up a time for each class to be introduced to the officer, make introductions, and ask questions. Make it clear to the officer that you would prefer a two-way conversation that allows students to interact. Many students have never had a positive interaction with the police, so this can be an important lesson. Some teachers can also be hesitant about having someone who is armed and in uniform in the building. Developing talking points and sharing them with staff will be important in creating a positive culture.
Consider having a coffee hour .
SROs often want to do more than patrol the building. Sponsoring a coffee hour, where the SRO and the principal can meet and talk with school families can help build a positive rapport. Invite the SRO to have lunch with students in the cafeteria. Also make sure the officer knows they can have fun with the kids outside on the playground.
Ask your SRO to speak during a class.
Depending on the officer, some are willing to teach a course or topic within a classroom. Criminal justice topics are relevant and of high interest and can be infused into many subject areas. Officers can often explain issues from a unique perspective and provide information on statutes that are of interest to students.
The value of an SRO in a school goes beyond just safety. With proper planning, the relationship can be a valuable resource for the school as well as the officer.
How do you incorporate your SRO into your school community? Come share your ideas in our Principal Life Facebook group.
Plus, schools need more than SROs. Other support staff is necessary.