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Impact on School Safety of Collaboration Between Law Enforcement & Rural Schools

Mario Scalora, Director, Public Policy Center, University of Nebraska, Lincoln

Dr. Scalora discusses his NIJ-funded research that looks at how police engagement and collaboration with rural school districts impact emergency operation planning and other aspects of school violence prevention.

MARIO SCALORA: We took a converging data collection approach, wanting to look at: How does the nature of police/law enforcement engagement with rural school districts impact things such as emergency operations planning, as well as other preventative aspects of school violence prevention? So we did several things. First of all, we worked with our state department of education in developing a self-assessment protocol, that school districts could quickly fill out, that were very specific observables. The second layer was our having objective observers look at the nature of collaboration between the school districts and outside agencies, like law enforcement, and asking third party observers, educators, kids, in particular, what did they see as the safety planning and operations involved? We then surveyed a lot of youth and staff about how they perceive school safety.

Part of it was: We take a very holistic view of school safety, and recognize that safety involves partnerships and relationships. And we learned very early [that] for safety to work we couldn’t just put the responsibility only on school administrators, but look at how law enforcement works with schools. And we know that rural law enforcement has very different challenges than more suburban or urban law enforcement agencies that may have more resources to bring to bear.

Some of the contributions of this project involved learning how rural law enforcement works with schools, and we found an interesting taxonomy. Nearly a third had very formal school resource officer agreements that we might find in larger populations. We also found that nearly half had more informal arrangements. And that level of activity between the schools and the law enforcement agency dictated the intensity of the school prevention and emergency operations response that took place.

One size does not fit all in rural school safety. School districts across the country face very challenging resource issues in managing school safety, and law enforcement in rural areas has to manage a lot of those same challenges. And so that’s one piece, that one size does not fit all. Second piece is that relationships matter, that relationships between law enforcement and schools, particularly in rural areas, really does impact the quality of how they work together in both preventative and reactive aspects of school safety.

I do a lot of work in targeted violence with my colleagues at the Public Policy Center, and we enjoy a wonderful collaborative relationship with the Nebraska Department of Education. And we’ve been working with them, and developing threat assessment and other safety-related protocols for our schools across the state. NIJ’s been quite a valuable ally. Obviously, receiving funding for this kind of research is quite critical to facilitating a holistic view of school safety. We are very fortunate, in a rural state that doesn’t always get a lot of attention from federal agencies, to see that NIJ actually cares about the array of issues that law enforcement and other agencies have to deal with, in trying to promote safety within school environments.

Date Created: June 19, 2020