The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
Are SROs the best use of school resources?
There’s no ignoring that putting a cop in the hallways of a school changes the personality of the campus. Are they there to protect students, or to monitor them?
Agree or not with state Sen. Gary Winfield’s proposed legislation on school resource officers, but it’s a debate worth having.
The “statement of purpose” of Winfield’s bill is right on the money: “To require specificity concerning the use and duties of school resource officers.”
The New Haven lawmaker recognized there has been a lack of clarity regarding the roles of SROs. It makes sense that a student or staff member walking into a school should have a clear understanding of the duties of a police officer assigned to the building.
And then, almost as if to demonstrate that people are confused about SROs, a line in the proposal suggests that “individuals who are school counselors, social workers, psychologists, aides or other staff members and have appropriate training and ongoing supports may be assigned the duties of a school resource officer.”
Huh? You probably thought “officer” was a synonym for “cop,” right?
And so, while aspiring for clarity and transparency, Winfield turned up the heat on whether there is a better option than a routine police presence in schools.
The fight can sometimes be a shadow of the “gun safety vs. mental health resources” discourse that has raged over the past decade. There’s a major difference that can get lost in that shadow, though. We need better gun safety as well as enhanced mental health resources. But suggesting that other staff members take over SRO duties makes little sense.
Back in March of 2020, education talking heads were already predicting that virtual learning would take a toll on the mental health of students. No one expected students to be coping with COVID-related fallouts for as long as they have been.
What schools need right now are more mental health experts. There can be many benefits to SROs, not the least of which is the possibility of students building an anchor of trust with the local police department. But there’s no ignoring that putting a cop in the hallways of a school changes the personality of the campus. Are they there to protect students, or to monitor them? A recent Connecticut Voices for Children study offered the damning data that students at schools with SROs were more than three times as likely to be arrested than their peers at schools that chose to forgo police.
Not every district in Connecticut leans on SROs. Some towns split the bill between the police and BOE budgets. Others leave it to be funded by one side or the other. Either way, the taxpayer is picking up the check. And many schools, even those that use SROs, have their own school security.
Most Connecticut schools fail the test when it comes to adequately hiring staff with mental health expertise. During this debate, it’s worth underscoring that a single police officer typically costs more than a school nurse or psychologist.
Trying to force other staff members to take on the duties of SROs would only further diminish thin resources. That’s an easy call.
So is the need to bring clarity to the job description of a cop who takes on the SRO role. The tougher call is determining if the positions are needed at all.