Public Perceptions of School Resource Officer (SRO) Programs

By Myrstol, Brad A. | Western Criminology Review, November 2011 | Go to article overview

Public Perceptions of School Resource Officer (SRO) Programs


Myrstol, Brad A., Western Criminology Review


Abstract: Prior research examining people's perceptions of SRO programs has focused on the views of four stakeholder groups: school administrators, teachers, parents, and students. Notably, however, no prior studies have assessed the views of the general public, and few have utilized multivariate analyses in order to identify the factors that shape perceptions of SRO initiatives. Using community survey data collected in Anchorage, Alaska this study explores the general public's awareness of, perceived need for, and belief in the effectiveness of SRO programs, and systematically examines factors that predict public support for them within a multivariate framework. Results show that public support for SRO programs is multidimensional and "fuzzy." Implications and suggestions for future research are discussed.

Keywords: School Resource Officers, schools, police, delinquency, public perceptions

INTRODUCTION

Prompted by several high-profile incidents of school violence in the late 1990s in places like West Paducah, Kentucky (1997); Springfield, Oregon (1998); Jonesboro, Arkansas (1998); and perhaps most memorably in Littleton, Colorado (1999), school administrators have taken a number of steps to improve school safety. Most prominent among these efforts has been the widespread adoption of technological security solutions, particularly the use of metal detectors and surveillance cameras. While these sorts of technologies were used prior to the high profile incidents of school violence that occurred in the 1990s, their use was largely limited to crime-ridden, urban schools. Now these forms of enhanced surveillance have spread to suburban and even rural schools (Addington 2009). In addition to these technological strategies, school administrators have taken other steps to control crime and delinquency. Examples of such steps include the creation of zero-tolerance policies for behaviors deemed to be detrimental to the learning environment of schools (Bracy 2011; Kupchik 2010; Price 2009), procedures for more tightly controlling access to school campuses and buildings, limiting weapons on campus, and developing crisis drills for faculty, staff, and students (Garcia 2003; Lawrence 2007; Snell et al. 2002). Officials have also worked to enhance the presence of security staff and police working in schools (Addington 2009; Birkland and Lawrence 2009; Price 2009). The introduction of School Resource Officers (SROs) - certified, sworn police officers who are employed by a local police agency but are permanently assigned to work in local schools - has been an especially popular response to concerns about school violence (Beger 2002; Theriot 2009).

While there is a long history of police occasionally working in schools, the permanent assignment of sworn police officers to schools is a relatively recent development. Prior to the 1990s, the number of sworn police officers working in schools was small (Brown 2006), but fears about school violence, coupled with the surge of interest in community policing throughout the 1990s, produced rapid increases in the number of sworn officers working in public schools in the United States (Birkland et al. 2009; Center for the Prevention of School Violence n.d.; Brown 2006). Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics show a significant increase in the number of local police agencies employing full-time SROs. In the late 1990s approximately a third of local police and sheriffs' departments employed SROs (Goldberg and Reaves 2000; Hickman and Reaves 2001; Reaves and Goldberg 2000). By 2003 SRO programs were operational in an estimated 43 percent of local police departments and 47 percent of sheriffs' departments. School resource officers are especially common in larger jurisdictions. Roughly 80 percent of police departments and 73 percent of sheriffs' offices serving jurisdictions of 100,000 or more residents maintain an SRO program; in cities with populations between 250,000 and 499,999 residents, more than 90 percent of departments employ full-time SROs. …

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