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A Randomized Controlled Trial of a Comprehensive, Research-Based Framework for Implementing School-Based Law Enforcement Programs

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Competitive Discretionary
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2016, $4,315,804)

Statement of the Problem: Although many districts now assign police to their schools, very little is known about “what works” in regards to school-based law enforcement. The extant literature lacks rigorous research methodologies and provides mixed conclusions about the impact of school-based law enforcement programs on student outcomes. Of equal concern is the absence of an evidence-based framework for integrating law enforcement officers into educational environments.

The collaboration between a practitioner-focused research and training center (Texas School Safety Center) and two experienced external evaluators (WestEd and Texas State University) presents a unique opportunity to conduct a cluster-randomized controlled trial in 26 campuses across six neighboring school districts in central Texas. Schools are first propensity score matched on one year of baseline data and then randomly assigned to treatment and control groups. Over two full school years, treatment schools are guided by the Texas School Safety Center using a comprehensive, research-based framework for implementing their school-based law enforcement program, while control schools continue as normal. In brief, the comprehensive framework involves setting tailored goals, including all stakeholders in decision-making, training officers and school staff, and using data-driven decision making to make program adjustments and solve problems. Student self-report and school archival data are collected and analyzed by WestEd to compare treatment and control schools on post-treatment measures of school climate, including delinquency and victimization, and school discipline. Analysis involves fitting conditional multilevel regression models with additional terms to account for the nesting of students within schools. In addition to impact analyses, fidelity data, including systematic observation and interviews, are collected and analyzed by Texas State University to determine if the comprehensive framework was implemented with fidelity, and to what extent control schools used components of this framework as well.

This 48-month study is, to the best of our knowledge, the first randomized controlled trial conducted of school-based law enforcement programs to identify whether a comprehensive, research-based framework improves student and school outcomes. By focusing on the implementation framework, rather than a specific program, this study evaluates a translatable approach for enhancing campus safety and reducing exclusionary discipline that can be utilized by schools across the country. In addition to producing a large, multilevel dataset and scholarly products, results will be published in practitioner-focused formats (e.g., regional training, interactive web-based content) to disseminate evidence-based guidelines for implementing school-based law enforcement programs.

Date Created: September 14, 2016