What is a School Resource Officer
School resource officers (SROs) are sworn law enforcement officers who work in schools. SROs have the power to arrest students, and nearly all are armed while on school campuses. Funding sources for these officers range widely, coming from school district funds, law enforcement budgets, or state or federal grants.
SROs Impact on Gun Violence in Schools
Increasing gun violence in schools has given districts, teachers, and communities an earnest desire to protect against school shootings. But the practice of policing in schools, including the traditional SRO model, has not been shown to reduce school shooting deaths.
- A study in the Journal of Adolescent Health of 179 shootings on school grounds over a nearly two-decade period (from 1999 through 2018) found no evidence that SROs in schools reduced deaths or injuries from school shooting incidents.
- A Brown University study of US public schools nationwide from 2014 to 2018 showed that while SROs may reduce school fights—certainly a desirable outcome—they do not prevent gun-related incidents in schools.
- A National Institute of Justice-funded study of every school shooting/attempted school shooting from 1980 to 2019 in US K–12 schools found that the rate of death in these incidents was 2.83 times greater in schools with armed guards on the scene than in those without.
Negative Impacts of SROs
While a number of rigorous studies have concluded that SROs do not reduce gun violence in schools, research has also identified conclusive evidence of three types of negative effects:
The Criminalization of Students
- Many armed officers in schools are not trained on the intricacies of working with children and teens. This results in increases in disciplinary actions and criminalizing measures, often for common adolescent behaviors, such as being arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for cursing.
- Research has identified increases in a range of disciplinary actions when police are in schools, including suspensions, expulsions, police referrals, and arrests.
- A national report using US Department of Education data from 2015–2016 found that having police in schools is associated with 3.5 times as many arrests compared to those schools without police.
Harmful Repercussions on Student Learning
- A national public school study found that the presence of police officers in schools can increase chronic absenteeism, which in turn can contribute to class failure and increases in high school dropout rates.
- A 2018 study of over 2.5 million Texas schoolchildren found that exposure to policing significantly decreased graduation rates for both Latinx and white high school students, and college-going among low-income Black, Latinx, and white students in schools that had a federal grant for school police.
Negative Impact on Students from Historically Marginalized Groups
Police in schools have particular ramifications for students of color, with mounting evidence of more severe consequences in two major areas: criminalization of students and worsened academic outcomes. Policing in schools disproportionately affects other students belonging to historically marginalized groups as well.
Students of Color
- Black students are three times more likely to be arrested than white students.
- Indigenous students are twice as likely as white students to be arrested.
- Latinx students were also more likely to be arrested than their white counterparts.
- Use of Force
- In Texas between 2011 and 2015, there were almost 2,500 incidents in which SROs used force against students. Over this period, Black students made up just 13 percent of the Texas public school student body yet were victims in 40 percent of SRO use-of-force incidents.
- The disproportionate treatment of students of color is not due to disproportionate misconduct. There is, in fact, no evidence that higher rates of misbehavior among these students account for the far higher likelihood of their being disciplined by school police compared with their white peers.
Students with Disabilities
Students with disabilities are almost three times more likely to be subject to school arrest than students without disabilities.
Research has also found that LGBTQ+ and gender-nonconforming students often report feeling hostility from law enforcement in schools and have a higher likelihood of being stopped by police, suspended, expelled, or arrested.
What to Say When Talking About SROs and Advocating for Their Removal
Use the tactics and tips in Students Demand Action’s Urge Your School Board to Act on School Safety Toolkit to guide your advocacy efforts.
Topline Supporting Points
- Students, as well as all members of the school community, deserve schools that are safe and secure, and the necessary function of school safety should be separated from policing and police forces.
- All members of school staff play a role in creating a safe and orderly school environment.
- The practice of policing in schools, including the traditional SRO model, has not been shown to reduce school shooting deaths.
- SROs in schools have several damaging effects, particularly on students of color and students of other marginalized groups, including increased criminalization and decreased graduation rates.
- When designing and implementing a school safety plan, students should be prioritized. No security proposal is acceptable if it fuels the school to prison pipeline, relies on exclusionary discipline or the criminal justice system, or disproportionately affects historically marginalized students.
Advocate for the Removal of SROs
- While there may be a role for security personnel in schools to maintain safety, guardrails should be established to make sure they have an exclusively protective (not disciplinary) role.
- Given the potential for harmful interactions between students and security personnel, SROs, including armed law enforcement, should be seen as a last resort in school safety priorities.
- Using police for general discipline and to make up for staffing shortages in terms of hall, playground, and lunchroom monitors as well as mental health and guidance counselors, can have consequences for students on multiple levels.
Alternatives to School Resource Officers
- Everytown has done extensive research on what actually does work to prevent gun violence in schools, and so we know the best way to keep students safe is to stop violence before it can begin.
- Schools should invest in proven school interventions, such as:
- crisis assessment/prevention programs,
- emergency planning,
- robust mental health support for students in crisis,
- and building a trusting school environment where students are willing to come forward when they hear something concerning as means of reducing school shootings.
If your school requires SROs or security, advocate for strong protections and guardrails to prevent harm to Black and brown students:
- Officers to have an exclusively protective, not disciplinary, role.
- Officers to be integrated within the school community.
- Officers to be answerable directly to school leaders.
- Officers to receive training as peace officers with extensive focus on interacting with the school population, including de-escalation and minimum use of force techniques.
- If a school decides to have a security guard or Department of Safety, it should ensure that it is not replicating the role of an SRO or police officer.