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Why SROs are a bad idea for Salem-Keizer
Preponderance of studies & evidence show school resource officers have no impact on safety in schools and, in fact, makes students feel less safe
The right-wing slate of Salem-Keizer School Board candidates want you to believe that safety in schools is a simple equation. It goes something like this:
Schools + Police = Safety
Except that’s a made-up equation. The two elements on the left side of the equation do not add up to the element on the right. In fact, the overwhelming majority of evidence and study would demand an equation more like this:
Schools + Police ≠ Safety
(Schools - Police) + Resources = Safety
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It’s not complicated, School Resource Officers don’t help, they hurt
If you listened to a candidate like Satya Chandragiri, running for re-election to his Zone #4 seat in Salem-Keizer, you’d think the solution to safety in schools is cops in corridors.
He’s wrong, of course.
But it’s curious that someone so vocally committed to data-driven decision making would blatantly ignore the overwhelming aggregate of data & research on SROs.
Set aside the partisan propaganda and take a look at what we actually know about School Resource Officers.
What are SROs?
According to Education Week, SROs generally can be described as follows:
A school resource officer is a sworn law-enforcement officer with arrest powers who works, either full or part time, in a school setting. Nearly all SROs are armed (about 91 percent, according to federal data), and most carry other restraints like handcuffs as well.
But, Education Week notes in the same explainer, research shows that School Resource Officers seem to have inconsistent training across states. And, research shows, it’s not uncommon for SROs to report feeling unprepared for their role.
States set different requirements for what training SROs need to have before working in schools, and some SROs report feeling unprepared for the job. In a 2018 Education Week Research Survey of SROs, about 1 in 5 respondents said they didn’t have sufficient training to work in a school environment, only 39 percent said they had training on child trauma, and about half said they hadn’t been trained to work with special education students.
Relative to other states, Oregon has virtually no state-level rules or regulations around School Resource Officer training or requirements for law enforcement operating in public schools.
What does the research say about the impact of SROs on students?
First, a caveat. Many studies you’ll find on the efficacy and impact of school resource officer will note the desire for more data. Some of the more recent studies seem to have much more solid data sets, but many others note a lack of data mostly originating with the law enforcement agencies that supply school resource officers.
This doesn’t mean these studies are bunk - it’s just important to understand that more data would give us a cleaner look at the impact of SROs.
OK, onward into the research:
This 2021 study from a group of faculty at SUNY Albany titled “The Thin Blue Line in Schools: New Evidence on School-Based Policing Across the U.S.” found that:
“…SROs do effectively reduce some forms of violence in schools, but do not prevent school shootings or gun-related incidents. We also find that SROs intensify the use of suspensions, expulsions, police referrals, and arrests of students. These effects are consistently over two times larger for Black students than White students. Finally, we observe that SROs increase chronic absenteeism, particularly for students with disabilities.”
The ACLU of Washington published in 2021 a piece that stitched together more than a half-dozen studies that clearly demonstrate the negative impact of SROs across a number of dimensions, including:
Failure of SROs to meet their original funding mandate around the increasing trend of mass shootings in schools. From the article:
“A study by Texas State University and the FBI examined over 160 incidents, including 25 school shootings. The study found that none of the school shootings were ended by armed officers returning fire. Rather, these shootings typically ended when the shooter(s) was restrained by unarmed staff or when the shooter simply decided to stop. If school shootings are the driving force behind SRO presence in schools, then this data certainly calls into question the effectiveness of this approach.”
Presence of SROs means more arrests, despite declining crime trends. From the article:
“The data shows that the increase in arrests is directly correlated to the presence of SROs in schools The arrest rates for schools with SROs were 3.5 times the rate of those without SROs, and in some states the arrest rates are as much as eight times the rate of schools without.”
Disproportionate impact on students of color and students with disabilities. From the article:
Exacerbating this problem is the fact that certain student groups are policed disproportionately. This is the case for students of color who are arrested or referred to law enforcement at significantly higher rates than their white counterparts. Moreover, students with disabilities are arrested or referred to law enforcement nearly three times the rate as their non-disabled peers.
School officers are also more likely to use force against these groups. Pepper spray, tasers, pain compliance techniques, use of police batons, hitting, kicking, slamming, and choking are all tactics that have been deemed too harsh for detention facilities, and yet, these tactics are used against students in schools.
SROs are a poor & inefficient use of funding. Providing options for “less carceral paths” for student growth and safety could stretch the dollars paid to law enforcement across a swath of resources that would…y’know, actually help.
Not only are School Resource Officers ineffective and an inefficient use of resources, but districts across the country are ending SRO contracts with local law enforcement offices.
EdWeek tracked recent SRO contract activity from May 2020 through June 2022 and found (likely undercounting) nearly 60 school districts across the country that ended their SRO contract. Eight of those 60 have since reversed course to varying degrees.
But the trend is meaningful in both number and size of districts that are actually responding to what the data clearly demonstrates - SROs are a failed policy.
Despite the growing trend of districts realizing SROs aren’t a good investment for student well-being, the idea that school resource officers area a positive force is incredibly pervasive.
The Associated Press ran an article in October 2022 detailing the landscape of school board races across the state of Maryland. Despite there being no proof that SROs improve school safety, a full third of more than 100 school board candidates across the state cited school resource officers as “the key” to school safety.
Look…I could write for hours citing sources and research. Or you could teach yourself something. This is a solid collection of Empirical Research on School Resource Officers.
If you want to dig deep and really take a couple hours to soak this stuff in, read this.
Chapter 4 is titled, “Reconsidering police in schools” and is obviously central to what this post is about. But, the other chapters are really interesting. And, just so we’re clear, this is from the Brookings Institute which is, at best/worst coming from the political “center.”
We’re just scratching the surface with the issue of School Resource Officers.
The history of SROs is fascinating. The flood of funding into school safety after Columbine had to go somewhere.
The real life negative impact of SROs on student populations in Salem-Keizer (and across the country) is tough to read & hear about. But critical to understand and meaningfully respond to.
And their voices are the ones that should be listened to most closely on the issue of SROs. Not outside groups pouring money into right wing candidates.
And we should ask people like Satya Chandragiri why he would support such terrible policy. He loves courageous questions, so this should be a softball for him.
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