Improving Understanding of Law Enforcement at Schools - Breakout Session, NIJ Virtual Conference on School Safety
On February 16-18, 2021, the National Institute of Justice hosted the Virtual Conference on School Safety: Bridging Research to Practice to Safeguard Our Schools. This video includes the following presentations:
A Taxonomy of Law Enforcement Engagement in Rural Schools, Mario Scalora
School Resource Officers in Suburban Elementary Schools, F. Chris Curran
SROs are now as common in suburban schools as they are in city schools, and elementary schools have seen significant increases in SRO presence. This presentation presents findings from a mixed-methods study of SRO expansion in suburban elementary schools. The findings document why SROs were expanded in this context, the daily roles and activities of SROs in this setting, and how their presence relates to student outcomes. The findings point to how tragedies such as the Sandy Hook shooting prompted expansion of SROs in this setting and how this focus on safety from external threats shapes their perspectives on using law enforcement and disciplinary action toward students. Implications for ongoing policy discussions around SROs are discussed.
Is It All Just Law Enforcement? Understanding the Diverse Roles of Police in Schools, Benjamin Fisher
One of the purported benefits of school resource officers (SROs) is that they engage in tasks unrelated to law enforcement such as providing mentoring and education to students. Still, little is known about SROs' motivations and rationales for engaging in these various activities. Using interview data from 26 SROs in a single large urban school district, this study examines how SROs talk about their various roles in the school and what guides their actions. The study's findings indicate that SROs use crime-control logics to motivate nearly all of their actions in schools, even actions as simple as giving high-fives or telling jokes to students. These pervasive crime control logics represent a form of school criminalization and have implications for student and schools, particularly in regard to racial equity.
School Resource Officer (SRO) Roles and Training: Perspectives from the Field, Gerard Lawson and Laura Welfare
School Resource Officers serve an invaluable role in supporting the school community. This research provides insight into the training provided and needed, and tasks that SROs are asked to balance in their role. Our quantitative findings helped to highlight the specific training that SROs bring to their work in the schools and what is still needed, and how their roles are understood by multiple stakeholders. And our qualitative findings bring the voice of exemplary SROs in how they manage their multiple roles.
>> Basia, you are on mute.
>> Thank you, and I'm sorry I was on mute.
Good day, everyone.
Thank you so much for joining us today.
My name is Basia Lopez, and I am a social science research analyst at NIJ.
I will moderate this breakout session.
This is breakout session number 14 titled Improving Understanding of Law Enforcement at School.
We have an amazing group of subject matter experts, and we here at NIJ are very honored to have you present on your projects.
These researchers are involved in studies and research on the role of law enforcement in schools and their training, as well, in many other aspects.
So our first panelist is Dr. Mario Scalora from the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center.
Then we will have Dr.
Chris Curran from the University of Florida College of Education.
Another, our third presenter is Ben Fisher, who Dr. Fisher is from the University of Louisville.
And finally, but not lastly, our professors or doctors from Virginia Tech, Gerard Lawson and Laura Welfare.
They will be talking about the training of law enforcement.
So welcome, our panelists.
Thank you, the audience, for joining us, and but before I give it to Dr. Scalora, I want to encourage the audience to use the Q and A option to enter your questions for the panelists, and we will address those questions once the presentations are over so closer to the end of this breakout session.
Thank you very much.
For no further ado, I will give the floor to Dr. Scalora.
To all the panelists, please make sure we are on the PowerPoint presentation mode.
>> Thank you.
Thank you to NIJ for this invitation, and it's an honor to be part of this panel with such a very distinguished group of researchers who are very accomplished.
I'm going to go quickly over a study that was supported by this initiative of ICSSI, looking at the breakdown or the taxonomy of how School Resource Officers or law enforcement engagement may occur within rural school districts.
I want to first of all acknowledge the invaluable contribution and collaboration of my colleagues, Dr. Denise Bulling and Dr. Stacey Hoffman at the Policy Center, as well as our very valued colleague, Dr. Jolene Palmer, with Nebraska Department of Education, who works with us in collaborating at very initiatives throughout the state and implementing various school safety projects.
Here we go.
We were looking at various aspects of law enforcement engagement in schools and to basically sort out how various aspects of our assessment process, looking at not only what schools describe as their safety process, but what we can find through objective assessment going to each site, as well as surveying various stakeholders to assess the nature of not only the safety processes that are going on, but the level of engagement of law enforcement.
And our hypotheses basically centered around the more engaged law enforcement were within schools, the more successfully implemented various school security measures might be, as well as how levels of engagement may be related to various community factors, such as population, crime rates, as well as other school-related engagement processes.
We had a sample of 189 districts to draw from.
We basically collected data from 361 schools from 186 school districts.
We had a converging data collection strategy utilizing both qualitative and quantitative approaches, looking at not only community-level data but self-assessment data performed at school, looking at having school administrators describe what were mandated and non-mandated safety structures they had in place, including threat assessment teams and school safety teams.
We trained on-site assessors to go to each site, to not only evaluate whether such activities were being implemented, but to have interviews with at least 10 staff members, namely educators, as well as students to get their impressions of what is actually in place and how it is being implemented.
We also collected some incident data from all the districts, as well as surveyed law enforcement and other school personnel as to the nature of law enforcement engagement at each site.
We, and basically there I described that process, we had safety assessments, nearly 300.
We were able to perform objective assessments at nearly all of those sites, and we had almost 120 combined surveys between administrators and school personnel, as well as law enforcement personnel regarding the nature of their engagement.
What we found was that there was really a taxonomy based on the level of formality of the arrangement, as well as frankly the amount of time being spent between law enforcement personnel and the school.
What we have -- and I will get into this in more detail.
For the more formalized, what we found was that there was often a contract or a written agreement, often referred to as an MOU or memorandum of understanding, and typically these law enforcement officers would be referred to as a designated School Resource Officer.
I should note that in all of these rural districts, rarely was there ever a, quote "full-time SRO," but there was at least a designated SRO in these more formally engaged districts.
The majority, and we'll get into the breakdown in a moment, involved what we would describe as informally engaged, where there was no written agreement in place, but there was a de facto relationship where one or more law enforcement officers would be engaged in various types of school activities.
In these informally engaged situations, you would have some law enforcement involvement, but it may not necessarily be a designated individual or the same individual at a given time.
The no engagement condition may be somewhat misleading as law enforcement could still show up at a school at a reactive basis if there was a crime or some other request for assistance, but there was at least no proactive indication of engagement.
When we look at the breakdown, nearly half of these districts describe what we would call an informal arrangement.
Formal arrangements were for only 25 percent of the schools which is no surprise.
Remember, many of these rural communities have very small law enforcement agencies at best and in many cases are being served by county sheriffs who are covering multiple jurisdictions.
When we looked at the data and how this broke down, we should note that in these rural settings, rarely was there ever someone who could be designated as a full-time School Resource Officer.
Whether formally or informally engaged, they were often juggling their duties in the schools with other law enforcement duties that were taking place.
Most of the law enforcement, whether they were formally engaged or informally engaged, were covering multiple buildings, and sometimes, because they were in counties that may have had more than -- may have covered more than one district, they may be serving more than one, multiple districts.
What we noticed that engagement levels, in some respects, as one would practically expect, followed the laws of physics, as they were influenced by the nature and extent of activities, one the amount of time available, as well as how many activities they could practically be engaged in.
When we looked at various activities, the more formally engaged School Resource Officers basically would describe more activities within the district, either programming related to dating violence, drug abuse, issues around coordinating between the school and the community and local law enforcement on various activities, serving as a counselor to students at risk.
Threat assessment teams were another area where we would see significantly more engagement at the formal level.
What we found is that when schools had more formal arrangements, that there was also more agreement between the objective assessment of what was happening at the school versus what was being described on paper as happening.
And so we found that various entities who are interviewed or surveyed would be able to describe in better detail whether there were behavioral threat assessment protocols in place, whether these protocols or various protocols were being implemented, whether a safety team existed, for example, and how that safety team operated.
What we also found was that the more that there was formal engagement and the more intense the engagement between law enforcement and the districts, the better, the higher the objective assessment data regarding the quality of the safety activity taking place among -- as noted by various stakeholders, whether it was related to how the threat assessment process may take place, whether people had confidence or felt that members of the team could better evaluate threats or how monitoring or safety management processes could take place within that building.
Also what we found was population size, as one would expect given the amount of resources it takes to staff support for school law enforcement collaboration, the higher the population level, the more significant the engagement level.
We also found that there was more significant engagement when there was more crime activity in that community or that surrounding area which probably provided more impetus for supporting law enforcement engagement in the local schools.
Some policy implications, and I'm obviously going through this very quickly out of respect for my colleagues here, we find that there is not the...
In the rural areas, the School Resource Officer model is a much more fluid and flexible one and does not fit a standard pattern or profile, given the array of settings that are covered.
And we noticed that the more -- the nature and extent of that engagement, regardless of how it may be described on paper, but the actual -- the level and extent of those partnerships and activities dictate that level and quality of engagement, and it seems to reflect in the quality and perceived quality of various school safety activities.
We also know that there is often a divergence between what sometimes administrators will describe as what's in place and how various stakeholders may describe as their awareness of various structures.
What we know is, the more engaged law enforcement is in these various communities, we note that there is much more convergence of opinion on the nature and quality of these activities.
We know that there's a great range, and I know other presenters will get into this with their data, as to the nature of activity performed by SROs across these communities, and what we find is that their level engagement of threat assessment and management processes did tie into the level of how engaged law enforcement was within their various schools.
There is our contact information, and I apologize for moving through this so quickly, but wanted to get through in my 15 minutes and move on to our next colleague.
>> All right.
Well, thank you, Dr. Scalora, and thank you, all, for being here.
Is everybody able to see my screen all right and hear me okay? I'll assume so.
So good afternoon, my name is Chris Curran.
I am an associate professor, as well as Director of the Education Policy Research Center at the University of Florida, and today I'm giving a talk entitled School Resource Officers in Suburban Elementary Schools, and this is joint work with Benjamin Fisher, Samantha Viano and Aaron Kupchik, the circle of which are, I believe, in the audience, and Ben is actually our next panelist on the panel.
So I just want to begin build thanking the NIJ and the Comprehensive School Safety Initiative for funding this work and for giving us the opportunity to share this work with everyone today.
I also want to acknowledge a number of research assistants who were critical throughout various stages of this research project.
So the first prop is really a nice setup because I think the focus on rural schools and then this talk that focuses on suburban schools really points to what I will kind of broadly describe in the context of this talk as a need to focus on understudied settings.
So this may not be news to many people tuning in to this session, but I think when I talk about School Resource Officers to broader audiences, there's often a surprise that School Resource Officers or school-based law enforcement officers are now about as common in non-city settings as they are in cities, which is to say they're just as common in suburbs and rural areas, though, I think as Dr. Scalora points out, maybe in ways that vary and look different than other settings.
But they're also as or more common in schools with predominantly white student bodies as schools with more diverse student bodies, and they're now in about a third of elementary schools which represents about a 70 percent increase between 2005 and the latest data in 2016 and an even larger increase if we go back and compare to numbers and presence in elementary schools back into the 1990s and 1980s.
So broadly I'll define these contexts, suburban or non-city areas, predominantly white or majority white settings and elementary schools, as a situation or a context that has been understudied traditionally in research on School Resource Officers and school policing, and I think this was particularly true sort of at the onset of this project back in 2015, 2016.
And so the purpose of our project was to examine settings like this, right? As national conversations right now in the wake of George Floyd's murder turn to conversations about whether school police should be in schools or if they are, what they should be doing, there's a real need to look at an expanded set of context to better understand and inform those kinds of conversations.
So our study broadly took on these three broad questions.
The first, why are SROs in these understudied settings, specifically these predominantly white and suburban elementary settings? What do they do in these settings, and what are the impacts of SROs in these settings? Whereas you'll see, as I get into the methods, I use the word "impacts" here not so much to mean causal estimates from, say, an experimental study, but perceptions of impacts from the views of those stakeholders in the schools.
So what I'm going to do is try to present some results from the broader study.
We've obviously had a number of sub-analyses that hone in on different more specific research questions, but I want to give some highlights and key findings from the work across this broader study that fall under these three broad research questions.
And at the end of the talk, I'll point you to some of the published work we have in other areas where you can find more details on many of the findings that I'll share.
So just a few words about context, our study took place in a single county in the Southeastern United States that we broadly described as suburban, but the county did have variation and heterogeneity with some areas being better classified as rural and some small urban city centers.
Within the context of this county, there are two school districts, one that we call Fairfield County Schools that sits over the entire county, and then a smaller school district, Washington City Schools, that serves the county seat or city-centric or urban area of the county.
So you can see some of the descriptive statistics on the right here.
The county schools are obviously considerably larger, whereas the city schools had a more diverse student body, both in terms of race as well as student socioeconomic status.
While we had school districts in this setting, I am, for the purpose of this study, going to generally refer to these as a single county, and that's largely because the School Resource Officers provided to these schools came from the same local law enforcement agency, and both of the school districts worked in tandem in most of these policy decisions and implementation decisions.
Now, to get a little bit of context about the history of SROs in this suburban county and context, prior to the 2012 tragedy at Sandy Hook, all of the high schools and the majority of the middle schools in this county had SROs present.
However, none of the elementary schools did.
Following Sandy Hook, there was a rapid expansion of the presence of SROs, such that every elementary school in the county then had its own dedicated full-time SRO present, and this happened in sort of a remarkably quick manner.
Following the shooting at Sandy Hook, within about a week the county had allocated funding for SROs to all their elementary schools, and within a matter of weeks they were placing SROs in each of those schools.
So in many ways, this kind of rapid uptake of SROs and expansion to the elementary setting provides, on the one hand, both sort of an interesting example and potential site for insight into why other settings like this have expanded their use of SROs over the last several decades, as well as provides sort of interesting context to study in that SROs were rapidly implemented across a large number of schools, providing some insights into how things changed and how the perceptions of stakeholders related to the presence of SROs being there.
So as I mentioned, this work comes from a broader research study where I'm sort of encompassing work that comes across a number of smaller, more focused research questions, but broadly our data sources involved interviews or focus groups with approximately 200 SROs, administrators, teachers, parents and students.
We also had survey response from several thousand individuals across each of these stakeholder groups.
We conducted about half of the observations with a number of SROs and then also had administrative data from SROs that came from their time-log data that documented the sorts of activities that they were engaging with for a year-long basis within the school districts.
Our analytic approaches varied based on the research questions that we were answering, but we used sort of a mixed methods approach generally, combining the aspects of qualitative research in terms of iterative coding and coding for emergent themes with some basic descriptive statistics and then a few more advanced quantitative methods such as using regression analysis with both school and classroom fixed effects as ways of trying to address selection bias when it came to interactions with or the presence of SROs in student outcomes.
And so I'm going to present some results that fall under each of these three broad research questions using this sort of mixed methods data as the foundation of it, and again, we'll be happy to sort of expand on any of the findings and point you to the more details on each of them as we wrap up the presentation.
So the first question, why are SROs in a predominantly white suburban elementary school setting, right? So historically and traditionally, these are not settings where law enforcement or SROs would be present.
In trying to understand what prompted and motivated the use of School Resource Officers in this setting, we drew on two theories from the political science and public policy literature.
Specifically, we used advocacy coalition framework to understand how the different stakeholders and constituent groups came together to coalesce around SROs as the preferred policy alternative, and then we coupled that with the multiple streams framework which provided insight into the agenda setting stage and eventually the policy formulation and adoption.
And so what we found was that Sandy Hook, the shooting at Sandy Hook and the national conversation and attention to school safety and violence that occurred after Sandy Hook served as the focusing events that opened a policy window for action around SROs, and so though it happened rapidly in this district with, again, SROs being expanded to elementary schools in a matter of weeks, that actually turned out, through our conversations, that this was something that had been building through a number of advocacy coalitions prior to the Sandy Hook tragedy.
And so specifically in talking to stakeholders, we found that the early genesis of SROs in the district at the high school and middle school level was largely a function of just available resources.
So in other words, the stakeholders said there wasn't a specific threat to safety or an incident that prompted the need for SROs, but instead it was a perception that SROs were being adopted nationwide and that there was availability of resources, particularly from the Federal government, to fund their expansion.
But with SROs in the high schools and middle schools, then stakeholders began to come together.
We saw examples of administrators talking with the sheriff, talking with other SROs at the higher levels and beginning to have conversations about why SROs were placed in the high schools but not placed in the elementary setting.
For some of them, this was seen as an equity issue, and particularly coupled with the threat that many individuals perceived in the setting of potential for school violence -- We heard a number of people say it's not a matter of if, but it's a matter of when there's going to be another Sandy Hook, another mass shooting.
There was a sense that there was a need to have similar safety protocols in place at the elementary level.
And so when the Sandy Hook tragedy happened, this policy window opened, and it allowed what had been building for almost a decade, in terms of conversations and the policy formulation, to rapidly resolve itself around a coalescing of focus on School Resource Officers as the proper solution.
And what we do is, we sort of extend this understanding of the adoption of SROs to think then some about implementation,a and so we found that when we talk to stakeholders in this district, the reasons and motivations and goals of having SROs in the elementary schools and in the schools more broadly were very much tied to this concern about school safety and particularly mass school shootings.
So one law enforcement leader said, "Number one is safety and security of the children and staff at the school.
And then number two is becoming involved with the children in the school and being a role model for them." So the stakeholders in the school, both law enforcement and school personnel, saw the number one goal of law enforcement as being to protect the school from another Sandy Hook, but a close second being to build relationships and improve perceptions of law enforcement more broadly.
So even sort of before some of the more national conversations about law enforcement and relationships with kids, there was a sense that many kids, even in this predominantly white suburban context, may not have positive views of law enforcement and a perception that SROs were one way to try to improve those perceptions.
So with that kind of context in mind, what did SROs end up doing in this setting? Well, first is that they aligned with this goal of protecting students from external outside threats.
So they were very focused on security which we really conceptualized as something almost different than the law enforcement role.
So thinking about the traditional triad model of SRO involvement, SROs described a lot of activities that perhaps could be included or thought of as law enforcement, but we saw as sort of separate activity of security.
And so one of the more salient examples of this was dealing with open doors.
SROs were very concerned about classroom teachers leaving doors to the outside of the school open because this posed a potential threat from an external intruder.
SROs also played a large role in having a presence at the front of the school, trying to park their patrol cars in ways that were prominent and otherwise make sure that they were contributing to target hardening and deterrence of potential violence from outside the school.
In contrast to that, they saw a very small role for themselves in trying to deal with threats from inside the school, particularly at the elementary school level.
The second thing in line with the goals of the SROs being present here was a focus on relationship building.
We saw a lot of examples of SROs working through informal interactions with students to build relationships.
These were small things, sometimes like a hello or a high five in the hallway.
Other times it was sitting down with students in the cafeteria to ask them about their day, and in some cases more formal counseling that might occur in an office or when a student might have been in a disciplinary situation of acting as somebody that could converse with and counsel that student in the situation.
And so largely, students reported generally good interactions with and positive interactions with their SROs, and teacher did the same.
We found that through this process, however, SROs were actively engaged in what we would describe as acting as police ambassadors which is to say that they taught subtle messages to students about the goodness of law enforcement and specific messages about the ways in which the sorts of things that students might see in the media, such as law enforcement engaged in an act of violence or law enforcement taking someone's life were exceptions to what otherwise are the general goodness of law enforcement.
And we found some interesting quotes when we thought about this, right? So this is a quote from an SRO in which he or she says, "African-American community and law enforcement have some issues of trust.
I can tell that they," referring to the students, "either have a bias already -- Even at this age, you can see the biases society has created." And so one of the sort of contrasts that came out is that many of the officers were aware that students, particularly students of color or students from lower-income backgrounds, may have issues or may view law enforcement in a bad light, but they often saw this as a bias on the part of the student rather than reflective of realities of overpolicing or reflective of problems in the way in which law enforcement may do their jobs.
And so they viewed this as a bias that they could correct by teaching the goodness of law enforcement to students and by being a positive role model to students in the school.
So let's then think a little bit about what those activities mean for the sorts of impacts that SROs have in this setting.
So the first thing I'll show you here is just a brief grid in which we try to capture a number of the different domains of impacts that our stakeholders reported across each of the different stakeholder groups at the top.
And so each of the cells shaded in here in blue is a segment or an intersection between a stakeholder and a particular domain of outcomes where that stakeholder reported SROs having an impact.
And so what you can see is that our stakeholders believed that SROs had a wide range of impacts in schools beyond just issues of safety, but going, in some cases, into things like teaching and learning or connectedness to the school, as well as perceptions of police more broadly.
It is worth saying, in this context, these perceptions were generally positive.
Most people across the stakeholder groups generally had positive views across most of these domains in terms of the impacts that the SROs were having in the school.
And we saw some of that when we returned to results of our regression analysis.
So we looked here at models in which students reported either their trust in the SRO or their comfort talking to the SRO, and in these models, we controlled for a number of observable characteristics, as well as classroom and school fixed effects.
And what you can see on the left is that students who reported greater trust of their SRO tended to report that they felt safer at school, the SRO made them feel safer at school, and they reported a lower fear of attack at school.
In a similar vein, students who reported comfort talking to the SRO also tended to be more likely to report feeling safe at school or that the SRO made them feel safe at school.
And this came out in our qualitative results, as well, right? Students said, "Well, the SRO is always really nice, gives hugs, high fives.
She's our police officer, and I feel more safe around her," or, you know, "If you get to know him, you realize he's really nice.
He's a nice guy.
He wouldn't do anything to you." So you could see students that maybe had initial hesitations or concerns feeling more trust as they got to know the SROs.
We also saw that when we look on here at interactions or the frequency of interactions with SROs, students who interacted more frequently with the SRO were more likely to report that the SRO makes them feel safer, although there was no significant relationship with feeling safe at school overall, and so we tried to kind of dive into why that finding might be.
Why would it be that students that interact more with the SRO say the SRO makes them feel safe, despite not reporting feeling safer at school overall? And here we found some nuance.
It could be the SRO and interactions with SROs actually are increasing perceptions of threats.
So one student focus group participant said, "Well, I kind of feel scared because if the SRO is not in all spots, if he's in the third grade hallway or the second grade hallway and something bad happens in fourth grade, he's not in all those spots, and it can take him a long time to get here." We had other students that said things like, "Well, you know, when my mom was little, she didn't need police in schools, but now we do." And so there was this tension between SROs and interactions with SROs predicting students seeing the SRO as keeping them safe, but also some sense that when SROs interact with students, they may be contributing to a heightened sense of risk about the types of potential threats and dangers that students face in school.
So just a brief summary of our findings, right? We found that the expansion of SROs can be prompted by a focusing event, like Sandy Hook, but at least in the case of this case study, it was a part of a longer trajectory.
SROs engaged in a multitude of roles that looked potentially different in elementary schools and in this predominantly white suburban context.
I think it's kind of important to point out in interpreting these results that the general perceptions of positive impacts of SROs in this setting may or may not generalize to more diverse settings or settings that are serving more disadvantaged students, and we certainly know from the broader research on SROs that these interactions can look different across different contexts.
And while our results point to some positives and some points that could drive positive interactions with SROs, we also recognize that SRO presence may increase perceived risk in schools and may downplay the reality of overpolicing and threats that law enforcement may pose, particularly to students of color and communities of color.
So as we think, then, about how to interpret these findings, right, I think it's important to sort of be critical in how we evaluate the lessons from this context.
On the one hand, this may be sort of seen as a best-case scenario, a setting in which SROs were guided by clear purposes of protecting students and had policies and practices in place to mitigate unintended negative consequences, and that may provide some important lessons for other contexts.
However, at the same time, we need to take care in extrapolating these narratives about impact in a predominantly white elementary suburban setting the broader conversations about law enforcement because some of these positive findings may not necessarily extrapolate to these other settings.
So with that, I will put up just a few of the citations and work that has been published out of this broader project.
In addition to what we have here, we also have the final report that is archived with the NIJ and publicly available, and so I would encourage people to check that out for more details on any of the subanalyses and specific assets of this project, and I'll thank you for that.
I look forward to Q and A and questions, and then you've got my contact information there, and I think with that I'm going to turn it over to our next speaker, who is my collaborator and colleague, Dr. Ben Fisher.
>> Well, thank you, Chris, and we're continuing on our journey into the cities, I guess, going from rural to suburban.
I'll be sharing some research from an urban school district.
I think I'm sharing my slides.
Somebody interrupt me if it's not working right, but I'm presenting research today that I've titled, "Is It All Just Law Enforcement? Understanding the Diverse Roles of Police in Schools." And my goal for today is to explore some of the issues, explore some of the roles that SROs perform sort of outside of their things that we might consider typical law enforcement roles.
So I've gotten used to sort of copying and pasting this on different presentations, but a big, big thanks to NIJ for so graciously supporting the research that we proposed and undertook.
So as I'm sure everyone knows, over the past year, we've seen a heightened interest in removing police from schools.
This comes on as part of the movement to defund police.
This comes as part of the Black Lives Matter movement, and we've seen school districts from coast to coast decide that they want to remove police from their schools for a variety of reasons.
We've seen on one hand there are dramatic instances of police violence against students in schools.
>> Ben, Ben, Ben.
>> Yeah? >> Could you please put your PowerPoint into the presentation mode so we can all see? >> Sure.
>> Thank you.
I'm sorry about interrupting you.
>> Does that look better? >> Much better, thank you.
>> You're welcome.
I need to rearrange my stuff here.
So on one hand, we've seen these high-profile incidents of police violence against students in schools, and on the other hand, we see a large and growing body of evidence that's sort of emerging around this consensus of a lack of consistent benefits and beneficial effects of police in schools, and we've seen plenty of negative consequences.
We see not only evidence that police in schools don't necessarily make them safer, but that we see higher rates of crime.
We see increased punishment in the form of arrests and exclusionary discipline.
We see inequality along the lines of race and ability and, to some extent I understand, the sexual orientation.
But there's also folks who say, you know, removing police from schools is going too far, and there may be ways to reform what SROs are doing in ways that maximize their benefits and minimize some of these negative unintended consequences that they might have.
Folks have suggested if we have them focus less on law enforcement and more on sort of those prosocial behaviors, whether it's mentoring or informal counseling or things like this that that might benefit students and schools.
I've heard in some places talk about limiting SROs' ability to make arrests and having school administrators sort of be a gatekeeper for whether that's allowed.
We've seen research that suggests the benefits of limiting officers' engagement with things like school discipline and those processes.
We've seen an emphasis on sort of coming from practice, not as much research, but an emphasis on having a memoranda of understanding of place or hiring the right people for the position, and I put this picture of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" because I've come to think of it as sort of, like, we can't have too much of it in one direction or too much of it in another direction, but maybe there's this way if we can get it just right that it'll work out.
And so the work I'm going to present today focuses mostly here on this first point, this idea about SROs.
If we move them sort of away from their law enforcement tasks and have them not sort of be reactive officers that are there to, you know, solve all the crimes and bash heads and stuff like that and sort of soften the role of SROs, what might that look like? So the research question, there are two that I'm going to address today.
The first is, "How do SROs motivate and understand their non-law enforcement tasks in schools?" And second, "What are the implications for students?" I'm not sure, actually, what happened here with my slide.
The second is -- Well, forget it.
It's important also to define how -- about non-law enforcement.
So when I talk about these roles, there are things where there's no criminal act that has happened or is about to happen.
There's no sense of imminent danger, and there's sort of this focus on routine, everyday activities that SROs engage in, and I will say that the findings I'm going to present are drawn from a few different analyses that all come from the same project, two of which are published papers, two more that are under review and two more that will be under review shortly.
Generally speaking, the data that I'm drawing on come from qualitative interviews that combined elements of structured -- interviews.
They come from 26 school-resource officers.
There were 30 in the district, so nearly all of them agreed to participate.
These officers were predominantly white males had a range of career experience, both as law enforcement, as SROs as well as law enforcement officers in other capacities.
The SROs came from three different police departments as well as one sheriff's office and were stationed almost exclusively in middle and high schools.
We had two that were in elementary schools.
We used a variety of analytic strategies to identify our themes, but our general approach to this was first identifying structural codes in the sections of our interviews followed by an open-coding strategy guided largely by grounded theory and finally doing thematic coding within those open codes.
The setting for this research was in one large urban district.
The district itself it majority minority, and less than half the students are white.
It's about half.
The city itself is much whiter than the school district, but a lot of the white students go to private and Catholic schools.
The SROs themselves were stationed in schools that were disproportionately nonwhite relative to the district as a whole, and even when this research was conducted, which was 3 years ago now, there was already some local activism around SROs in schools, both those seeking to remove them for issues of equity and social justice and those advocating to keep them in because of issues of safety.
So I'm going to talk about three sort of cross-cutting themes that we found in our research, and when SROs were not involved in law enforcement, which they would admit, I think, took a minority of their time, these were three activities that were high priorities for them.
The first is maintaining a presence.
The second is this idea of order maintenance, and the third is building relationships, and as I think you'll see throughout my presentation, each of these different roles was largely motivated by a crime-control framework, and I'll show you what I mean.
So this first theme of maintaining a presence, this had to do with literally having a physical presence in space.
This relied on sort of opportunity theories of crime where providing spatial guardianship might prevent crimes from occurring because students were afraid of getting caught doing something wrong.
As SROs talked about the importance of maintaining presence, they conveyed this idea that student committing crimes or committing acts of violence was imminent and their presence in those spaces, maybe hot spots within the school building, stopped the students from committing crime.
So this idea of maintaining a presence and sort of these preventive logics that underlie them motivated decisions about very mundane routine things: where officers stood, where they walked, where they looked.
It's important to note, too, that this idea of maintaining a presence was paired with this idea of unpredictability where if they moved around a lot and didn't keep a routine, the students would never know exactly where they were, which in a sense meant they could be anywhere.
So I have two quotes that I think articulate this idea fairly well, and I'll let you read them.
I'll note that we have a lot more of these.
These are themes that cut across a lot of our interviews, and I've just selected a couple that put the idea particularly well.
So this officer said, "I go up and down the hallway so I'm seen throughout the hallways so maybe there's no fights or anything like that," linking the idea of being seen to stopping violence.
The second officer said, "I want to make sure I'm somewhere different.
It keeps them off center.
You keep them off kilter a little bit because they never know where you're going to be at.
It makes them nervous." This is that idea of unpredictability.
If you could pop up anywhere, it makes the students nervous, and when they're nervous about that, it stops them from being deviant or committing crime in some way.
The second thing we found was around order maintenance, and this had to do with the idea of addressing small issues so they don't turn into big issues.
We have seen this in policing in communities in the form of broken-windows policing, where if we tackle small problems like litter or broken windows, that'll prevent larger issues from happening.
This again conveyed the idea that the officers viewed schools as places where crime was imminent, and these crimes could be both internal threats that had to do with students misbehaving or students committing crimes as well as external threats.
We also saw in these data, like Chris mentioned in the last presentation, concerned with open doors and people getting from the outside into the building who shouldn't be there, so this idea of order maintenance was very much one linked to crime prevention.
So I have two examples here of how order maintenance worked in schools.
This first officer says, "It's not a school rule. It's my rule.
Yes, because this is something I implemented.
It's nothing in writing, but I've told all the students the reason why I don't want the hoods in the building.
It's a safety factor.
I mean, anything -- I like to see your face." So this SRO had a rule that they implemented in their school building that hoods weren't allowed because the SRO felt less comfortable with them and thought they made the school unsafe.
A second example here is an SRO talking about students using gang signs.
They said, "Every day, they throwing up gang signs, and I said, 'Look here.
We're going to put you in this book,' because my guy, he works on the gang task force.
He said, 'Hey, start putting them in books.
Start taking pictures of them doing it,' the whole shebang.
I said, 'Hey, we're still wanting to put you in this book,' and then I start handing this book off to this gang task force dude, and you don't want to do that." So again, using gang signs is not a criminal act.
There's no evidence that these students were actually in gangs or committing crimes, but again, monitoring this sort of minor perceived misbehavior was this officer's way of maintaining order so that further crimes didn't occur.
And this third them that we found is building relationships, and this one was maybe a little less driven exclusively by sort of this law enforcement, crime-control logic.
Sometimes it was done just for the sake of building relationships, and but on the other hand, it was often motivated by a crime-control logic.
So we saw multiple examples of officers using students to accomplish the goals of law enforcement, and we saw these relationships being leveraged for both crime prevention and, like, intelligence-gathering operations within the school.
So again, this perspective on sort of using relationships with students to accomplish law enforcement ends, it occurred because the officers viewed schools as criminogenic and students as future and potential offenders or informants.
This one talked about the cheerleaders in particular.
He said, "Kids like to talk, so the cheerleaders are my number one informants.
They love to come and tell me, like, 'Hey, so-and-so is getting ready to fight so-and-so.'" So again, this is not just building relationships because, you know, the cheerleaders need some mentoring.
This is to accomplish policing goals.
Second, "I've built kids that will tell on other kids, say that smelled weed on the kid, tell him he said he's going to sell some weed over here in the fifth period in the bathroom.
I'll pull the kid down, and usually it's all good information.
They don't make stuff up on each other." To me, this is really reminiscent of sort of confidential informants and the way that we think about them in community settings.
And so I think having noted these three themes, I don't want to sort of move on too much without thinking about the implications for equity here, so I will note that many officers explicitly sought out students they considered at risk, and what they considered at risk was often students of color, poor students, students from single-parent households, low-achieving students, students with disabilities, so ones that they perceived to already have some sort of marginalized identity, but the perceptions of how SROs perceived threats was highly racialized.
So we saw that sort of overall in these schools that the SROs were less concerned about protecting the students from threats coming from outside and more concerned with the students themselves as threats and policing the behavior of the students, and we saw this particularly in schools that had larger proportions of black and brown students.
So in the whiter schools, on one hand, officers viewed student misbehavior as normative and part of what it means to be a teenager or linked it to mental-health issues or talked about it as rule violations, but similar misbehaviors in blacker and browner schools were framed as violent or because kids came from bad neighborhoods or poor parenting.
So these issues of how SROs approached their non-law-enforcement activities through this policing and crime-control lens, it likely has implications for equity as well.
So as a summary, we saw that even in the daily mundane routines that SROs described performing, they articulated them through this crime-control framework where they understood schools as places where crime as imminent and students as always about to offend.
And in terms of issues of equity here again, these efforts to prevent crime were likely to be particularly focused on students of color.
Now, we think there are implications for students, but these haven't been sort of systematically studied in any way that we know of, so we're concerned that there's a potential to socialize students into this unquestioning trust of police, and this is maybe particularly problematic for black students who are more likely to come from communities that are overpoliced and be the subject of police violence.
We're also concerned that this constant surveillance even in sort of noncrime interactions may promote a limited sense of freedom and autonomy for students and sort of socialize them into this idea of constantly being surveilled.
And then finally, there's a concern about negative-expectancy effects where if students sort of get the sense that they're always the object of suspicion, they might internalize this idea that, you know, "Maybe the norms here are to be the object of suspicion, and maybe I need to be doing things that merit them," and so maybe they might increase their engagement in a variety of misbehaviors.
So in terms of this question I sort of posed earlier about the potential for SRO reform via sort of emphasizing their non-law-enforcement roles, I will say it's probably better than not reforming.
We know things aren't going well as they are, but I'll say, too, that crime control will likely remain central.
It certainly was in the district we looked in, and there's this underlying issue, too, of police culture that seems to be sort of a permanent and pervasive feature of law enforcement that certainly shows up in schools, and we don't see that changing quite as quickly as some of these policies do, and that's going to be another issue that needs to be tackled.
I'll also say that schools are doing plenty of things on their own without police to punish students, to marginalize them, to bring up issues of equity and inequality, and so I'm not laying the blame of all this on the police's feet, but there are some ways that I think we can creatively reimagine schools and education to center student well-being and equity.
Finally, thanks to my coauthors and collaborators, and I'll end my time.
>> Well, thanks, Ben.
I'm Gerard Lawson.
I'm really pleased to be here with my colleague, Laura Welfare.
It's always a pleasure to be able to present with a group of esteemed colleagues like this, and I'm really relieved to find that our findings are so consistent with theirs.
As Basia noted earlier, though, our focus is on both the training needs for SROs and some of the ways that SROs view and even navigate the complex roles that are involved in the work that they do, so I think that you'll see some of this as awfully similar, and then a couple things that are a little bit different.
And what we'll try to do in the time that we have is to touch on some of the survey data that we've received regarding those roles and the training, but then also if we can, look at some of the quotes, directly from SROs and other stakeholders in the schools that will talk a little bit about how they do navigate those, the different challenges that they face.
Just as the others have mentioned, we really do appreciate the generous support that we've received from NIJ and the remarkable research team that we've been able to work with for the time that we were involved with these projects.
The work that we did was across the entire Commonwealth of Virginia, so we worked hard to try to identify school resource officers and stakeholders from, you know, all of the different regions of the state, and we ultimately did a pretty good job, I hope, of this.
There certainly are some challenges with data collection when it came to the SROs.
In particular, there was no separate listing of SROs.
The Department of Criminal Justice Services is responsible for overseeing the work that SROs do.
They do an awful lot of training, so we did try to access the availability through them, but some of that was, "Who had they trained?" And it's not always a requirement that SROs go through training with them.
Because they're placed at the local level in schools through the police department or sheriff's office, some of them are part-time.
Some of them are full-time.
Some cover multiple schools.
Supervisors are, you know, often a good point of contact, but even that will sometimes shift from time to time.
So we ultimately were able to invite about 700 SROs that we were able to identify, got a response of 265 to a survey that we sent out, and of the 136 SRO law enforcement supervisors that we invited to participate in our surveys, we got a response from about 60 of those.
When we spoke to the SROs through these surveys, we also asked them to let us know who their liaison was in the school.
Was that a principal or an assistant principal? Whomever they worked with on a regular basis to help them sort of navigate the work that they do, and that was another point of contact and a data point for us as well.
We did do interviews and focus groups both with individual SROs, their supervisors with SOs, security officers, and their supervisors, that's a discussion for a different day, and then also some school leaders, principals, assistant principals, even school counselors at times who had some insight into the work that the SROs were doing.
We also had the benefit of a survey that's done throughout Virginia every year.
Every year, every school building in Virginia is required to respond to a school-safety audit that's actually included in the legislation that they are required to have an opportunity to provide feedback on safety and security issues in their school.
And from that, we found that about 1,000 schools had an SRO.
Now, again, some of these are shared SROs, but we felt pretty good about the numbers that we were actually finding.
The 700 that we invited and so forth seems to be a fair reflection at that point.
And then the last point that we looked at was doing some document analysis, in terms of both the Virginia School and Law Enforcement Guide, which the Department of Criminal Justice Services develops, and the memoranda of understanding that we've talked about already today that sort of lay out between the law enforcement agency and the schools who's responsible for what part of the work that's getting done.
So when we first looked at some of the law enforcement training, one of the things that we asked in the survey was for SROs to let us know, "Of all of the training that you've received, how does this sort of break out in terms of what you are able to apply in different settings?" And what you see here is that just over half, about 56 percent of them, said that of the training they had received was applicable to any setting, school or out in the community, you know, riding the road or on a beat, what have you.
That 56 percent would apply to all of the settings, but then evenly split was 22 percent that they said was school specific and it was just for that purpose.
It was, you know, working with kids or working in a school setting with regard to search and seizure, those sorts of things, but then there was also the 22 percent that did not apply to schools at all, and when we asked about this, we also wanted to know, "What sort of training have you taken part in?" or, "What kinds of training is required for SROs in their communities?" So we are getting this sense that there is a lot of generic sort of training and then about a quarter or just shy of a quarter of this is stuff that's unique to SROs in the school setting, and that's the stuff that really intrigues us.
So we looked a little bit further, and through the analysis of the memoranda of understanding found that there were a number of things that are actually identified in those partnership agreements between the law enforcement and the community or the law enforcement agencies and the school setting that said, "These are areas of training that you need to have your SROs go through." And you can see, the top ones were things like seclusion and restraint or, you know, several that had things like child and adolescent development, school discipline policies and procedures, and implicit in that is how the SRO interacts with those sorts of things.
You'll hear a little bit more about that a little later on.
These are ones that showed up popularly.
You can also see there are a handful of things that were only in one MOU at a time and maybe didn't rise to the top of the level, but someplace they thought this was a good idea for them to be able to include that.
So when we tried to get our head around what kind of training was available to people, what were they actually participating in, the next question is, "What else do they need?" And so we asked that specifically, "What other training do you feel like you need in the work that you do as an SRO?" And the top five areas that showed up among SROs were working with students with special needs, and that may not be a surprise to anybody, mental health issues in childhood and adolescence, and again, I don't think that would be a surprise to most people on this call, dangerous and threatening students, bullying, how to handle bullying and even cyberbullying more specifically.
SROs in our interviews would talk about, you know, issues that would arise online in the off hours and then show up at school the next morning.
And then this last one, establishing effective working relationships with parents.
So these seem to be the ones that SROs are most concerned about.
This isn't to say that they don't have training in these areas, but when we ask them, "What are the areas that you need more training in?" these are the ones that rose to the top among the SROs that we were speaking with, the ones that were part of our survey results.
The last little thing I'll share with you about the training itself has to do with the agreement among our stakeholders about the kind of training that SROs might use.
So we didn't just ask the SROs, "What kind of training do you need more of?" We also asked their law enforcement supervisors and the SRO liaison, the school liaisons, the administrators that work with them in the schools.
You can see generally these numbers sort of track with one another, that there are some areas where everybody agreed we need more training in this area, and some where, no, there's less of an agreement that we need more training in one area.
The one that I would point out to you, though, is the one that we've circled around dangerous and threatening students, and what is interesting about this one in particular was that the SROs and their law enforcement supervisors said, "Yes. We need more training in this area." Whereas the school liaisons said, "No. Our SROs got this handled." That sort of disconnect is a little bit disconcerting, even when we're talking about a push towards being sure that that law enforcement component and, you know, the number one piece, keeping kids safe in the school, that if that's the primary piece, there should be a better agreement among the different stakeholders that would say, "Yes, this is something that we all need to provide better training on." You can see similar sorts of things showing up in other areas, never quite as stark as this one, but in other areas too that also are those same top five areas generally of, you know, things that the law enforcement, the SROs felt as if they needed further training in.
I want to be mindful of our time, but I also want to just say that we did get into some of the SRO roles with our respondents, and this is a place where we spent a fair amount of time with them in the interviews.
We use the triad model that NASRO has published and really did give them an opportunity to sort of tell us what this looks like for them day to day, and there were a number of things that came out of this.
One of the things that we thought was really interesting was, again, when we look across the roles in the school, we would ask the SRO, their law enforcement supervisor and then that school-based liaison, "How does an SRO divide up their time based on their SRO duties?" And what is interesting about this but maybe not surprising, there's an awful lot of similarity, but it's interesting that both the SRO and the school liaison, the school administrator, are awfully similar to one another whereas the SRO supervisor, the law enforcement supervisor, really focuses more on that law-enforcement-officer component.
It's a bigger piece of the pie in that one area than it is for the other two.
The SRO liaison and the SRO themselves said, "The primary areas is this role model or mentoring, trying to be that partner in the community with kids and, you know, getting next to them to help them, you know, learn and work more appropriately in their setting.
So these sorts of things, again, help us to understand it may make sense that this law enforcement supervisor is going to hear about the things where an arrest occurred or there was a decision about an arrest and maybe doesn't hear as much about the mentoring and some of the educational pieces as they might under other circumstances, but it is...
I think a piece for us to keep an eye on is, how is this communication happening across the partnership, the SRO, their liaison and their supervisor within the school? I'm going to go quickly through some of these quotes from the law enforcement officers and about their roles, and again, this is, you know, just hearing from folks on the streets doing this work remotely about how they do navigate some of these really tricky roles, and this, I think, speaks to some of what Ben was just talking about too, that, you know, this is Daniel, not his real name, but an SRO that said, "My role is to enforce laws.
I don't enforce school policy.
I can suggest school policy to a student, but I don't enforce it, so if I see a kid in the hall, I can say, 'Hey, Jabril. You're wearing your hat again.
You know what's going to happen if you get caught doing that,' and hopefully they'll take the hint, but what I don't say is, 'Hey, Jabril.
Take that hat off or else.' Why? Because if he challenges me on it, I have no authority to actually make him take his hat off.
Plus, that also takes the power away from the teachers." This is a really nuanced sort of understanding of his role, wanting to be sure that his authority for discipline stays where it belongs and that he's there to maintain the law enforcement component of this directly.
We had Spencer, a different SRO, talking about the liaison component of this, that, "That's the whole point of the SRO program is that community outreach.
We're a bridge for and hence the words school resource officer.
You know, I mean, the word resource is exactly what I am.
I wear many hats." We heard SROs over and over again talking about how they went above and beyond getting kids connected to sports, getting families connected to food banks, getting more of those sorts of things going on so that there is that liaison component, and I think this also speaks to some of what you heard about trying to bolster the image of SROs in law enforcement more broadly.
Amanda, a school leader who said, "The...
Our SRO also works with the government teacher for the lessons on legal or legality, the law that they need to know when they graduate.
In the past, which we didn't do this last year, but in the past, he's also given a presentation about drunk driving, especially our driver's ed classes, so there's also some curriculum pieces that he's involved in as well," and this law-related educator piece shows up as well in different ways.
Spencer again said, "Our job is to educate.
I spend a lot of my day undoing what the parents have taught their kids.
A lot of parents are like, "Hey.
Finders keepers, losers weepers, and that's not true.
That's not written in the lawbooks," so again, trying to be sure that kids aren't going to end up on the wrong side of this information because they've come with bad information from someplace else in their world.
And then the last of the roles that we looked at is this role-model-and-mentor piece, and Alex talks about this, "And this student that was somewhat of a behavior issue, and the SROs took it upon ourselves to mentor that student, and lo and behold, years later when that student became a parent and had a student in school and was experiencing some issues with that child in elementary school, you know, she reached out to her prior SRO who helped her to assist that child, so that's just one of many, I guess, what you'd call success stories with my SROs." This is one of the supervisors that had a long view of the work that they do and was able to say, "Here's generations of kids that are benefiting from the work that the SROs are doing in the school, and these are the kinds of things that we would see over and over again through the interviews that we have." I'm keeping an eye on the time.
I want to be sure we've got plenty of time for the questions and answers.
Here is our contact information.
I think it's available to you as well through the handouts that we provided, so I am going to stop sharing my screen, and, Basia, we can go from there for the questions that folks might have.
>> Yes, what a great set of presentations and a great set of projects.
Thank you very much for sharing this important information with us.
It is evidence that these projects are essential to improving our understanding of law enforcement at schools, and they also adding to producing scientific evidence on this topic as well, so again, thank you so much.
As for our audience, we still have some time left for Q and A.
I have a couple questions in the queue.
There were some questions coming during the presentations, but our panelists already answered them in writing.
The two of them that I want to ask you about, first one relates to the role of an SRO and difference that of school-system police officers, so is there a significant difference in scope and success between these two? I think that will be to Gerard.
>> I think so.
So there are some school systems that have their own police force, and it's a different process, a different mechanism than the SRO model in a lot of ways because they are, you know, within the school system.
It's also different than the school security officers that we referenced just briefly, but in our survey, we didn't have enough of a response from those organizations to be able to separate that out.
They're pretty rare in Virginia.
I don't know about other places, but they're fairly rare in Virginia, and we wouldn't have enough data from our study to be able to say one way or the other how similar or different those are.
>> Thank you.
Do you want to add something? Go ahead.
>> I was just going to say, I think the second one is for us as well from our friend Kim Simon.
What we don't know is whether or not the supervisor has experience and/or training as an SRO, which would impact our data.
That is so spot-on.
One of the things that we found was that there are some folks that sort of do work their way up.
They start out as an SRO, and they go on to become an SRO supervisor, and that does seem to be -- And I'm speaking anecdotally here, but it does seem to be of benefit.
When we talk to them about the roles, they do see that more comprehensively and, I think, are able to talk about the importance of that informal role model or mentor piece of it, the educator piece of it, whereas if it's somebody that's just in the chain of command and maybe hasn't had that same time in service as an SRO, they may not be able to see the value or appreciate how frequently that sort of work happens that is not going to show up on an arrest record or resulting in arrest but is still a critically important part of some of the work that they do.
>> Thank you very much.
Again, to our audience, we still have a few moments left for questions.
Please enter them in Q and A, and unless it's to the whole group, please indicate who you ask in that question, whether it's Mario, Ben, Chris, Gerard or Laura.
In the meantime, I would like to ask our panelists, what are your in-general thoughts about the role of law enforcement? So taking our cap off from, you know, the researcher's angle and kind of put ourselves in a role of a general public but also based on your knowledge, how would you see the role of the law enforcement in school or SROs? And that's open to the whole panel.
>> I can kind of give an answer to this.
I used an analogy in the meeting a couple weeks ago that it appears to be sort of an intervention in search of a solution to some degree, that from the research that we know, there's sort of no consistent evidence of benefits, but people still want them around, so it seems like there's sort of this way that folks are trying to shape their roles to find some way that they'll benefit schools, whether that is in making connections to resources as was described or serving as a role model or something, so it feels to me like the role of SROs are very much in flux and sort of in an effort to find a way that they may benefit schools.
>> I would have a slightly different view of that though I respect Ben's work a great deal, and depending on how these things are implemented, we can end up in a place where we are searching for a solution.
I know with regard to certain types of activity like threat-assessment teams when properly utilized, the law enforcement role can be very much a de-escalating one and a very positive one in that regard, and I think when properly scripted, I think there are some significant benefits in many respects.
What we find is that there's a significant downward trend in citations, arrests, and we're seeing grievances being adequately de-escalated and threats of violence being managed in that regard, so I think there are some positive aspects there.
That being said, that doesn't disregard some of the points Ben raised.
I think it's, how is this -- why are they there, and what are they doing versus they just happen to be hanging around.
>> I want to add briefly that I think that variety really makes this a challenging topic to research and a challenging topic to contextualize our findings, you know, for a broader audience? So one change that Virginia is in the process of making is moving to a statewide training requirement so, you know, rather than the local law enforcement or sheriff's office deciding which member of the force is going to be an SRO this year, there being some consistent statewide training and tracking of that, which I hope, like you, Ben, mentioned, will lead to some positive reforms in the areas where it's needed, and then, you know, one of our interviews focused on exemplars, one of our data-collection components, and hearing the impact and positive ways from those communities definitely makes me hope for positive reforms that can spread that out and continue the good work that can be done while mitigating the harms.
>> Thank you very much.
While we were talking, a couple of new questions came in, so I am going to read them to you all, so did any researcher look at turnover in SROs, and if so, what is the impact of that in schools? Has any of you looked at the turnover? >> We did.
We've looked at this a couple different ways.
One of the things that we had heard prior to our study was that there was an old practice in Virginia about term limits, that a lot of SRO programs were using, "You needed to be in this for X number of years but no longer," and so we wanted to explore that a little bit, and it turns out that that is very rarely used, that wherever that was was probably old data or old stories as well.
Very infrequently were there any term limits at all, but what we did see was that when people reported satisfaction in the work that they were doing, SROs reported satisfaction in the work they were doing, it had a lot to do with the partnership, so that turnover happens two ways, when there's a new SRO in the building or a new administrator in the building.
That's the place that we would see there being challenges and maybe some growing pains in terms of the relationship and how that meant they were able to do their job, so that's a piece that we can speak to sort of indirectly that way.
There is a fair amount of turnover because some places do make this as an assignment just like any other assignment whereas some places in Virginia, we found this is a plumb position and a really opportunity to be able to advance your career, and so folks that really wanted it, and they were interested in working with kids, and they wanted to make an impact in those ways, and that was valued in the selection process, those folks seem to stick around longer, and they build those partnerships that endure more over time.
>> I think what complicates this matter is...
And I don't want to sound like a researcher even though I do anyway.
It's, what is our definition because from a practical point of view, we know what an SRO is, and they're often designated, but if you're in a rural county like, say, in Nebraska that I'm familiar with, you may not have the same person serving the schools that week because they may have three people on shift covering the whole county, and one of them will be the SRO, and the other person is...
And then, later that week, somebody else is on duty.
So now they're technically not SROs, but to get to some of the data and some of the issues Ben and others have raised, for example, those people are interacting in the schools may be doing it very well.
One of our commenters, Mr. Kennedy, raised a question of training.
Some of them may be trained, some not.
We have a wide variation of people with badges interacting in our schools even if we have formal programs, and we have statewide mandates, and so many of those folks who are informally engaging are not covered by a statewide training mandate, so I think our research has to cover not only those who are formally designated but the people who actually do come across and come in who may be doing great work and may be at risk for doing some things that are problematic because they're not trained, and they may not be part of an MOU and all those other important things, and I think we really need to know what is the special sauce for what makes an SRO effective and avoid some of the issues that people are raising that are a concern.
Thank you very much for answering this question, and there is one question directly to Laura: "Laura, how will the Virginia SROs be chosen as that's a vital variable in this as well?" >> That's a good question.
Well, so my understanding is that the selection will still occur at the local level but that resources for training and sort of participation and engagement in a consistent statewide training program will be what's always been optional, and our partners have been providing, you know, training as an option for a long while and required for those positions that were federally funded or state-funded but not required, and so this would be more of a consistent tracking and a training requirement beyond that officer basic and the initial field training that officers get that isn't in SRO, you know, positions.
It's in other types of law enforcement.
>> Yes, thank you.
So I want to remind the audience that we still have few minutes left, and if you want to post your Q and As, please feel free to do so.
In the meantime, I am going to ask the panel in general, and I would hope to hear from everyone and each of you on this.
What are the biggest outstanding questions about the role of SROs or law enforcement in schools? So I'll give you a minute to think about, and then I'll put you on the spot.
>> I'm happy to jump in if it's -- you're looking for a volunteer.
So I think one of the biggest questions to me is the impact of SROs on these kind of mass incidents of school violence, right? If we think about one of the key motivators for the expansion of SROs, I think it is fear of the next Sandy Hook, the next Parkland and so forth, and I think we don't have a ton of good evidence partially just because it's hard to design studies, you know, for such rare events, but we don't have great evidence about the impact of SROs either in deterring those events or, you know, their limited evidence when it comes to responses though there are a couple studies out there that maybe provide some insight into that, but I think that's a key part of the conversation because I think we're often stuck between this tension of wanting to ensure the students are safe and trying to think about ways to prevent the next Parkland, the next Sandy Hook, the next Columbine and then maybe some of the potential tradeoffs and/or advantages from day-to-day, routine activities, you know, that happen in the course of normal SRO activity, but I think having better evidence about their impacts on various acts of school violence would be very informative, you know, for these ongoing discussions and debates.
>> Thank you very much, Chris.
Anyone else would like to chime in? >> Yeah.
This is going to be my thought but also other people's thoughts, I think, too that -- I was -- I had the privilege a few weeks ago of being part of a group of researchers who discussed a report that is being prepared for Congress on the state of research on police in schools, and there were sort of a few different working groups.
The one that I was part of had to do with sort of empirical research on the impacts of SROs, and there was sort of a surprising consensus among those of us there that moving into research on removing police from schools is kind of what needs to happen, especially with this big push among especially major-city schools in 2020 to get police out of schools.
We just don't know what happens, whether there's sort of a positive decriminalization of schools or whether schools are left vulnerable and underresourced in some way, and so I'm moving towards that.
I think there's sort of a surprising consensus around that.
>> You know, one of the things that I think is on my mind for this next part of it is about those other roles.
If we're talking about the law enforcement part of it, you know, part of what we see when SROs do seem to get in trouble with, you know, excessive violence or excessive force, those sorts of things in the schools or in particular is when they're asked to do something that's outside of their role, and the example that comes to mind was the cell-phone issue in South Carolina where an SRO was called into the classroom to have a girl surprise her cell phone.
You know, again, we're in a place where that's a school policy, not a law that was being broken, and that resulted in that SRO ultimately using excessive force, and it made the national news and so forth.
That's got to be addressed.
How do you stay in your lane in a way that's appropriate, does maintain, you know, the safety of the school rather than compounding the problems of safety in the school? But if we're taking that as part of it, I think the other part of what the good SROs seem to really be gravitating towards is that informal mentoring, the informal counseling, the things that they like to do with kids.
Then we need to help them understand more about that part of it, and if part of what they're doing there is trying to also rehabilitate the image of police in the schools or police more broadly, fine, but let's talk about trauma-informed care.
Let's talk about restorative practices with SROs as part of, "We want you to be part of this community.
We don't want you to be, you know, suspended or expelled.
We want you to be here in this community," and how can the SRO be more involved in keeping kids in the school and only being that last result for serious, you know, security and safety issues? But that's going to require a brand-new way, you know, a paradigm shift in how you prioritize the work that they're doing and what that might look like, so I think there's...
there are some programs out there that are beginning to lean into that a bit.
Those are the ones I'd be interested in taking a look at next is to see how they differentiate those roles, how they prioritize them and what a difference that makes in terms of the school.
>> I will add, I think a better understanding, and we're seeing some of those, but how the benefits are sort of distributed across subgroups based on social and cultural identities and then also how the harms are distributed because I think we can summarize either, but seeing how it all comes together and weighing pros and cons is an important next step.
>> All right.
Thank you very much for your remarks, and again, I want to thank you for your presentations and for doing these important studies.
We at NIJ are very excited about them, and we appreciate your devotion to them.
So this is the last set of the breakout sessions that we had at our conference, and shortly my colleague, Mary Poulin Carlton, she will give closing remarks for our conference.
Specifically that session will start at 3:45 Eastern Time so roughly in 15 minutes, and also, I want to thank the audience to taking the time and joining this specific session and breakout session.
I want to remind you that if you missed something that was concurrently airing, please once you will get notified that the recordings are available, go ahead and revisit this session and visit other sessions that you didn't get the chance to participate or be engaged in.
With this, if there are no further questions, I will say have a great day.
For those of you who are impacted by the weather, stay warm and be safe to all of us, and thank you very much, and I'm receiving a lot of feedback here, "Thank you for the presentation.
Thank you for great work.
Terrific." Hand of applause to y'all.
I assume that the whole audience is doing it right now, and we will see you in 15 minutes at the closing session.
Opinions or points of view expressed in these recordings represent those of the speakers and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. Any commercial products and manufacturers discussed in these recordings are presented for informational purposes only and do not constitute product approval or endorsement by the U.S. Department of Justice.
- Bureau of Justice Statistics: Survey of Law Enforcement in Public Schools - Roundtable Discussion, NIJ Virtual Conference on School Safety
- Preparing for and Responding to Threats and Violence - Breakout Session, NIJ Virtual Conference on School Safety
- Student Mental Health and Trauma - Breakout Session, NIJ Virtual Conference on School Safety