Academic journal article Journal of Law and Education

An Empirical Analysis of Recent Case Law Arising from the Use of School Resource Officers

Academic journal article Journal of Law and Education

An Empirical Analysis of Recent Case Law Arising from the Use of School Resource Officers

Article excerpt

In response to continued school shootings, current proposals range from arming teachers with guns to increasing mental health screening and services.1 Yet, a stable staple that has prevailed since the 1990s, and that remains well-accepted, is the use of school resource officers (SROs).2 Indeed, the recent Phi Delta Kappa poll found that K-12 parents favored armed security personnel than any other school security measure.3 Individual cases serve as limited illustrations of the potential downsides, such as the recent suit by the father of one of the Parkland shooting victims against the "coward" SRO.4

The professional literature has been rather broad although not particularly deep. A pertinent issue that remains largely unaddressed is the extent and nature of court decisions that have arisen during recent years from the prevailing use of SROs. Responding to the gap, this empirical analysis of the case law during the most recent decade initially follows the traditional format for social science research reporting- starting with a review of the literature, the method of analysis, and the resulting findings.5 However, the final part not only discusses the findings but also extends the discussion to two generally unrecognized and inadvertent consequences that warrant policy consideration in the overall cost-benefit assessment of this school safety measure.

I. LITERATURE OVERVIEW

The professional literature specific to SROs extends across a wider range of issues, including recommendations for their use,6 against their use,7 or conditioning their use on increased rigor.8 The general conception of SROs is a triad model encompassing the roles of law enforcement, counseling, and teaching9 with a carefully formulated governance document or memorandum of understanding.10

The prevailing models for, and references to, SROs range widely from sworn officers employed by local law enforcement agencies and assigned on a full-time basis to the schools to safety officers directly employed by school districts.11 The specific title or terminology varies, and the status of being sworn is not consistently clear.12

Empirical research has included (a) perceptions of students,13 principals,14 SROs,15 multi-role groups,16 and the general public;17 (b) school demographics;18 (c) SRO decision making;19 and (d) SRO bullying interventions.20 This research, however, is relatively thin, with one of the major limitations being lack of generalizability based on geographically limited and largely convenience sampling. Similarly, as various sources have recognized,21 the limited research concerning the effectiveness of SRO programs22 does not address the critical factor of causality. A major methodological problem is the failure to address the heterogeneity attributable to not only differing definitions of SROs but also unmeasured intervening variables.23 Moreover, the research to date does not address the effect of SROs on school shootings or on school climate.24

The case law connection in the education literature has been largely limited to rather cursory mentions of the Fourth Amendment standard for searches or seizures.25 The few articles in education journals that cited SRO-specific court decisions have been very limited in the number of citations and the extent of analysis.26 Law reviews have provided specific legal attention to SROs, but the case law coverage has been markedly limited and without empirically styled analysis.27

The only major exception is a monograph that canvassed 349 court decisions from 1960 to September 2011 concerning SROs.28 The authors legitimately used a generic conception of SROs that only excluded court decisions concerning local police who played an ad hoc, rather than regularly assigned, role.29 However, their selection criteria were not sufficiently specific, such as "ar[ising] in whole or in part from the involvement of [an SRO],"30 thus contributing to case coverage that was both over- and under-inclusive. …

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