Editor’s note: According to the writer, the following was written as a research project on school police officers in general, and is not intended to be specifically about the November 2019 shooting at Saugus High School.
Sending children to school is often a worrisome experience for most mothers and fathers. Increased violence and school shootings that have taken place across the country have a lot of parents opting for home-schooling their children. Others fear the home schooling would be worse without that in-school social experience and would isolate their children or that their child would become socially inept or socially awkward.
Following many high-profile school shootings, more police officers were stationed at schools to prevent these types of acts.
The question is, does having police officers on school campuses reduce that risk?
Ryan Broll and Robin Lafferty (2018) authored a research paper looking at a cross-sectional study in 2006, by the National Center for Education Statistics on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education. The results showed that having school resource officers placed in middle and high school levels had no statistical significance on the incidents of bullying. However, it did have significance on the teachers who were trained by the SROs. When those teachers who were trained by the SROs stepped in, then the bullying decreased.
Overall, the study found that more behavior management and violence prevention training for teachers led to less frequent bullying and violence.
A study of school police officers within the U.S. in 2015 examined police officers who preferred the post-incident method of disciplining of youth. The study found the officers who received SRO training would more likely prefer a formal resolution, and the more educated officers tended to favor less punitive and informal responses. Philip Bolger, Jonathan Kremser and Haley Walker (2019), stated that some community (stakeholders) find that having officers placed in their community schools has only increased the referrals to the justice system, which increased the arrests and incarceration of juveniles.
However, Bolger, Kremser and Walker stated that there were methodological weaknesses in the studies.
Author Matthew Theriot (2009) did a comparison study of arrests with assigned SROs and those without showing that number of arrests were not impacted by the presence of an SRO, but that it was unclear whether having an SRO on campuses contributes to criminalizing student behavior.
Another study reported by Bolger, Kremser and Walker, conducted at Kettering Fairmont High School in Ohio in 2004, found a more positive result of decreased disruptive behaviors, suspensions and arrests after SRO programs were implemented.
A study done in Texas reported by authors Joseph McKenna and Shawna White (2018) shows that when an officer uses legal means to deal with the issues, the outcome is associated with a negative student outcome, such as poor academic performance, truancy and dropouts. The study also has some researchers concluding that SROs in school settings are fueling the “school-to-prison pipeline.” When an officer takes the role of a law enforcer, the student feels they are in prison while at school. When an officer takes the role of a counselor or a mentor, the result is more positive and less threatening.
Another study by author Selena Nemorin (2017) chose to look at surveillance as a form of a more electronic policing. The study found that closed-circuit television was the most promising form of electronic surveillance versus others out in the world of surveillance. With techniques of surveillance, more schools and communities must take a more realistic look into adding these types of security measures for the schools to keep those students safe.
With school shootings on the rise, violence and bullying, school campuses are becoming more in need of safety and security measures put into place. This is where law enforcement needs to sit down with the stakeholders — principals, teachers, parents and students -— for a realistic approach to resolving the problem. Overall, the evidence has shown us that if a law enforcement role is placed on an officer the outcome is not as significant as would be when the role of an SRO is more of a counselor or a mentor. The evidence points also to a better outcome when the staff is better trained by the SROs.
No one can predict when a school shooting is going to take place. However, by working together for safety and security, law enforcement and the communities in which they serve can open up those lines of communication to perhaps one day be able to have the ability to stop a school shooting from happening.