School resources officers are ‘community policing at its best’
The school resource officer is like the oldtime cop on the beat, according to Stacey Collis, a trainer with the National Association of School Resource Officers, who led a week-long basic training session at the Intermediate Unit 17 facility recently.
“They knew the neighbors and they worked within that,” he said, comparing schools to communities.
“It’s community policing at it’s best. You’re working in a small community. Most schools of a certain size are like a small city. You experience the same problems as a small city would and the SRO is there,” Collis said.
Collis said that the SROs work with the community around schools, such as businesses and churches to build relationships.
“It’s all about relationships, whether it be the students, the staff, business owners, I wanted that relationship. I wanted them to know I’m a part of that community,” Collis shared.
Collis, whose home base is in Colorado, serves as a trainer for the national organization, travelling across the country to speak to SROs.
He noted that one of the things that he stresses in the trainings is that there is a difference between a school resource officer and a police officer in the schools.
“The police officer in the schools is basically responding to criminal types of things. The school resource officer duties are based on the triad approach of law enforcement,” he said.
The triad approach divides the SRO’s duties into three areas; educator, informal counselor and law enforcement officer, according to information from NASRO.
“Yes, they have to enforce the law, if it’s applicable. They do law-related education and go into classrooms teaching kids about laws that are applicable to them — like talking about the constitution talking about the Fourth Amendment, the Fifth Amendment. Doing those things in class,” he explained.
“The other part if a mentor, informal counselor. They are not certified as counselors, it’s more informal, mentoring and sending them in the right direction,” he added.
Many times, Collis said, if students see counsel from their friends they can be sent in the wrong direction and they still might not find the help they need.
Various topics were discussed at the local training, such as “foundations of school-based law enforcement,” “the SRO as teacher or guest speaker,” “understanding the teen brain,” “school law,” and on the last day, “threat response: preventing violence in schools.”
According to Laura Klym, school outreach specialist, the intermediate unit had decided to hold the seminar because SROs are required to take the training and many districts had asked if it could be done locally.
“The requests from our districts were overwhelming,” she said. “We decided to host it here as an IU to be able to offer the opportunity for our districts to send school resource officers.”
School resource officers from as far away as Massachusetts attended the training, as well as others representing the four-county area that the local IU covers.
Klym said that she feels the training offers a chance for SROs to collaborate with each other in addition to getting the required instruction.
“I think here, too, that it’s not just school resource officers. It’s a representation of different law enforcement, retired police officers, active police officers, security agencies and school resource officers,” Klym said. “It’s a nice blend to be able to talk about different experiences that they’ve had.”
Speaking to the rise in school violence, Collis said that preparation is important.
“Understanding, and I hate to say it, it’s not if, but when we’re going to see something,” he stressed.
“It’s all in the preparation. For me, it’s talking to the kids, giving them permission to say you’ve got a right to help yourself…You have a right to feel safe,” he said.
“The thing that we all want, I think, is to let the kids be kids and that has changed so drastically now,” he added.