Law enforcement officers patrolling schools

Many years ago, my partner and I were on a case that took us to a big city with serious inner-city school issues. A tall fence topped with concertina wire encircled the bleak high school while parent volunteers patrolled the halls, carrying walkie-talkies so they could communicate with the school’s office.

At the time, school resource officers were not common fixtures in the schools; most systems were in the process of starting SRO programs. Those initial efforts led to a lot of misconceptions about what SROs were all about.

Some departments—not all, but some—used the opportunity to rid themselves of officers who were low performing. Guys who were out-of-shape, older and less capable were sometimes relegated to working on school campuses. Some department heads saw it as a good place to send female officers because they viewed them as less valuable members of their agencies.

One high school in my area had a deputy who refused to walk the grounds. Instead, he spent all of his time riding around in a golf cart. This guy also refused to attempt to build a rapport with the kids with whom he dealt on a daily basis. As a result, neither the administration nor the students respected him.

Another local officer placed in the schools at that time was just the opposite: An excellent law enforcement professional on the road, he was also a very good school resource officer. He took his duties seriously, built a great relationship with the kids and was instrumental in heading off many potentially disastrous situations. The department, recognizing the value of his depth of knowledge concerning his beat, left him there for many years and their confidence in him was repaid many times over. He was the right man for the job.

And I think that is more the case in today’s modern world of highly trained, responsible SROs. No longer is being an SRO a form of “light duty” or where officers on their way out of the door are stashed to minimize the amount of harm they can do on the road. Now, SROs are given the responsibility of guarding their community’s most precious assets: Their children. And both parents and law enforcement agencies demand only the very best be assigned to the job.

Following in the wake of the unfathomable horror that took place in Newtown, Conn., many are weighing in on what we as a country can do to make schools safer. One of the suggestions floated by the National Rifle Association is to allow expanded use of firearms on school campuses, including arming teachers and administrative staff. The National Association of School Research Officers (NASRO) disagrees with the NRA’s position in this matter. They believe only NASRO members should be armed. I believe NASRO is closer to the mark.

While I don’t necessarily think membership in NASRO should be the watermark for going armed on a school campus, I do agree that school resource officers are the only ones who should be armed on campus. Law enforcement officers, with their experience and training, are much better equipped to handle active shooters than civilians. And while I concur that an armed teacher could make a difference in a fire fight, that difference might not necessarily be one that tips the scale in the right direction.

Nothing is clear about this issue except that it will be argued, studied and always controversial. But there’s one thing that is clear, and it’s that school resource officers are no longer the guys who can’t make it in a patrol car. Now, they’re the cream of the crop, and that’s exactly how it should be.

Also, consider this: workplace violence is now common. What happens if an armed campus civilian loses control and decides to settle a score?