School Resource Officer (SRO) programs are, by definition, built upon partnerships. The school-based police officers’ partners are school administrators — principals at the building level, superintendents at the executive level.
In properly managed SRO programs, these partnerships are formalized in written Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreements. These MOUs are typically signed by school boards and/or superintendents, and police administrators.
So recognizing that it takes two to tango, as the old saying goes, are political and social activists who are demanding the removal of police from schools also demanding the removal of the schools’ administrators?
Failed SRO/school-police programs also mean failed partnerships by school administrators
If a school-based police program has failed, as some superintendents and school boards are abruptly claiming (almost overnight) following civil unrest from the horrifying death of George Floyd in the hands of police in Minneapolis, then it also failed at the hands of their principals and superintendents who were partners in the SRO programs. Shouldn’t activists also demand that the principals and superintendents who were the educational partners and overseers of these school-based police programs in their schools also be thrown out along with the removed police?
If this suggestion sounds absurd, so does the abrupt, knee-jerk removal of SRO programs that are occurring, or being proposed, in a dozen or more school districts around the nation. These almost overnight decisions all appear to be made in hasty reaction to civil unrest political pressures following the death of George Floyd.
One of the worst times to make knee-jerk school safety policy decisions is in highly emotional and political contexts. It is just a poor way to do public policy, especially when child and teacher safety is at risk.
Most importantly, it is highly unlikely these SRO program removals were proposed, planned, and decided based upon a current evaluation of whether their SRO programs are following best practice models for school-based policing.
Decisions driven by political, social, and philosophical agendas, not by school-safety best practices
As I stated about the in my interview this week with Stateline:
“Are we doing it for symbolic reasons? Are we doing it for political reasons?” asked Ken Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, a Cleveland-based school security consulting firm. (He has no relation to President Donald Trump.) “Or are we doing it for school safety practice reasons?”
In my June 4th post, I highlight school districts that abruptly moved to eliminated their SRO programs. Since only a week ago, more districts around the nation have bowed to political pressure and jumped on the bandwagon including:
- Seattle superintendent and school board suspends partnership with police for one year
- In Charlottesville, VA, the school board will discuss whether to remove SROs
- Los Angeles Schools’ teachers union called to eliminate school police
- Columbus, OH, residents called for removal of police from Columbus schools
- Oakland district moves closer to eliminating school police
- Tacoma teachers union wants uniformed police officers removed from schools starting in fall
- School board delays budget to hear more about taking police officers out of Salem-Keizer schools
- Activists in Chicago call for removal of police from schools
- The Madison (Wisconsin) School Board president reversed her support of SROs, after pressure from activists, and backs removal of police from schools
- Prince George’s County (MD) school board members propose defunding school police
- Albemarle County Public Schools examines school resource officer usage
- Should officers be pulled from Tucson schools? Some request removal
- Activists called for the removal of police from five Texas school districts including Dallas and Houston
Fortunately, there are a few voices of reason from the city and schoolhouse sides. Chicago’s Mayor Lori Lightfoot said that too much work has gone into reforming Chicago Police services in schools to defund the program. Citing a ‘Huge Safety Challenge,’ NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio says NYPD should stay In NYC Schools.
Dallas superintendent, Dr. Michael Hinojosa, says defunding the school police is not the answer: “When we think about Sandy Hook, Santa Fe, and all those other things, parents will never forgive us if something safety wise happens to their kids,” the superintendent said. “We depend on our police department for safety and security and we expect our officers to build relationships with students.”
None of these articles point to a current, formal, and thorough evaluation of their school-based police program. The timing and actions clearly suggest that school boards and superintendents are melting to political and social activist pressures, not in response to an examination of best practices of SRO programs such as those I highlighted in my June 4th blog.
Voices of SRO/school-police advocates’ missing, political context is poor time for safety policy decisions
These demands and reactions fail to address MOUs, best practices, formal evaluations, or school administrator roles and responsibilities in the SRO programs. Instead, it is all about throwing out the police. It is all the fault of the police, according to activists.
Yet in a program built upon the concept of police and school administrator partnerships, there is no questioning about the alleged actions or inactions of the police officers’ “partners” in these programs — the school administrators.
The sweeping, abrupt policy decisions, all within the same week or so, to move SROs from schools strongly suggests these decisions are all about school boards and superintendents bowing to political pressures. The decisions are not based upon comprehensive program evaluations and fail to include other stakeholder voices.
Where are other parent, student, and staff perspectives and voices in these decisions? Where are the voices of the SROs? Where are the voices of those who support having SROs remain in the schools and feel the programs have been effective?
The context in which these decisions are being made — a highly politicized, socially and racially charged context — reeks of political decision-making under pressure. This is not decision-making driven by school safety best practices. It is not the best way to make policy decisions in general. Beware that public safety policy decision making made in these short-term contexts has a long-term high risk of leading to disaster.
School administrators likely to be left empty-handed down the road when seeking to return SRO programs
The official position by police and school leaders now is that even if removed from the schools, the police will respond when called. But by the time a school needs to call the police, it is already in reactive mode. The SROs who prevent incidences from occurring will not have been there to do so.
Looking down the road, it is foreseeable that a time will come when other presently less-vocal parents who are not presently in the spotlight will call for the return of SROs to their schools. So will some of the shortsighted teacher unions that are currently calling to remove school police to advance their political and social philosophies, forgetting that it is their teachers who often rely upon officers to help keep school safe. When the next high-profile school shooting occurs, these same school leaders will likely be scrambling to appease the next vocal group who will be calling for heightened security and the return of police to schools.
But the short-sighted superintendents and boards who are now caving to political pressure need to recognize that when the political heat is turned on them later on to return police to the schools, they may not have the option to do so. Current SROs will be reassigned to other police duties. As post-COVID-19 budget cut hit police departments, providing SROs when school leaders come calling a year or two down the road may be out of reach. Many police officers, realizing how the SRO program was disbanded for political reasons, will chose not to return to the unstable leadership environment where they were unrightfully evicted, even if given the chance to do so.
Perhaps it will be then that school superintendents and principals will understand the meaning behind Winston Churchill’s quote:
“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.”
School administrators will solely own potential safety and liability risks due to bad policy making
George Floyd should never have died in the hands of Minneapolis police and the way it occurred rightfully shocked this nation.
Knee-jerk policy changes, however, are not the answer to safer schools. What is popular is not necessarily what is right, nor does what is the trend of the day make good school safety policy.
Short-term appeasement in response to political pressures may leave school leaders realizing that they are stuck with their political decisions of today and tomorrow. Removal of police from schools may leave them all by themselves as a “partnership” of one.
While we operate in an unprecedented time of uncertainty, one thing is clear: School boards and administrators will have to own their abrupt decisions AND the potential safety and liability risks that come with it.
Ken Trump is the President of National School Safety and Security Services
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