A Longitudinal Multi-Method Evaluation of a High School Resource Officer Program

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Numerous police services in both Canada and the United States offer High School Resource Officer (HSRO) programs despite a paucity of research on the effectiveness of such programs. As such, this article reviews the theoretical basis for these programs and presents the results of a longitudinal multi-method evaluation of a Canadian HSRO Program. Results of the evaluation indicate a number of interesting trends, including the finding that: school staff are generally more positive about the program than are students, respondents from schools without the program in its first year rated it as less effective at reducing crime once they had the program as compared to when they did not, and longer exposure to the program did not result in improved ratings of it. Study limitations and directions for future research are discussed within the context of improving the effectiveness of HSRO programs.

Placing High School Resource Officers (HSROs) in secondary schools began in Liverpool, England in 1951 (Bond, 2001). Since then HSRO Programs have burgeoned, expanding to both the United States and Canada. It may be argued that the placing of these police officers in secondary schools, within the context of HSRO programs, is in keeping with a community policing philosophy that views the identification and resolution of crime as the shared responsibility of police and the community and the work of police officers as encompassing both reactive and proactive components (McKenna, 2000). Accordingly, police officers work in collaboration with communities to ameliorate conditions that contribute to crime and schools constitute communities within which police officers and other stakeholders (i.e., students, parents and educators) can work collaboratively to address local issues.

Given the above, it is important to note that a key tenet of community policing is that police engage in crime prevention. As such, an outcome of predicating police work on a community policing philosophy is that policing becomes inherently intelligence-led. Intelligence-led policing encompasses gathering and analyzing information to guide tactical decisions (Parkinson, 2002). It may be argued, therefore, that the primary benefit of the work done by HSROs in school communities is, in theory, that it is proactive rather than reactive. That is, the HSROs serve as information resources and intelligence gatherers and use intelligence to detect and prevent crime.

Despite the proliferation of HSRO programs, there is a dearth of empirical research evaluating the effectiveness of such programs. The few studies that have been conducted to date come from the United States and suggest that such programs can contribute to creating a safer learning environment. Goggins, Newman, Waechter, and Williams (1994), for example, found that perceptions of police officers in schools in Akron, Ohio were very positive. Specifically, this study found that police were viewed as making a significant contribution to creating a safer school environment although different stakeholder groups varied in the extent to which they viewed the program favourably, with school administrators viewing the program more favourably than did teachers, counsellors, and students. Similarly, Humphrey and Huey's (2001) longitudinal study of the impact of a HSRO Program in nine New Hampshire schools revealed that the Program was beneficial in that it contributed to an improved school environment, changed the behavioural patterns of students (e.g., weapons carried to school on fewer days), and resulted in more favourable attitudes toward police officers. While these studies provide some insight into the benefits of HSRO programs, they are nevertheless limited by their mono-method bias and the absence of a comprehensive articulated program theory against which findings can be compared to determine program effectiveness.

The present article reports on the effectiveness of a HSRO Program using a longitudinal multi-method approach that is predicated on its program theory, that is, the stated goals and objectives of the program. …

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