The Role of the School Resource Officer
For the most part, schools are safe places. But when an incident happens at a school and children are affected, the severity seems to be magnified and the media attention is startling. In the last 12 months, there has been a greater awareness of school safety than there was "before Sandy Hook." Schools are now reviewing their crisis plans and making recommendations for safety upgrades. School staff members are attending safety trainings and taking the drills much more seriously.
School resource officers obviously play a large part in school safety today. As the president of the National Association of School Resource Officers, in the days and weeks following the Sandy Hook tragedy, I was asked numerous times if having a school resource officer at the school would have prevented the shooting. It is very hard to answer because we will never know why that 20-year-old picked that school. What I do know is that two other schools in that town had resource officers assigned to them on that December morning and the suspect chose a different school.
Does the fact that there is a fully marked police car parked in front of a school deter outsiders from coming on campus to cause harm? That's the plan. What if there had been a police officer on campus at the time the shooting started? Would the suspect have been able to walk freely down the hallway and into two different classrooms for almost five minutes shooting innocent victims without anyone there to try to stop them? I think not. A resource officer may not have prevented the first shot from being fired, but certainly could have been able to minimize the casualties that day by taking appropriate action against the armed gunman.
Over the past couple of years, there have been assaults on school resource officers by suspects who had planned larger school attacks, but knew that they first had to deal with the only person on campus with the ability to stop them first. For example, on April 5, 2011, Officer Kenneth Fridlund was assigned to Carwise Middle School in Florida. That day, a student summoned him into the restroom, saying he had to show the officer something. When Officer Fridlund stepped into the bathroom, the student lunged at him with a 4" bladed tactical knife. The student stabbed Officer Fridlund in the abdomen and tried to grab his sidearm, but the officer was able to reach his pepper spray and eventually disarm the attacker. Later, a duffle bag containing 11 glass bottles rigged as gasoline bombs was found in a bathroom stall.
Having a properly trained school resource officer on campus is one step to making schools safer. An officer is much more than just "someone with a gun" who is standing by waiting for something bad to happen. The National Association of School Resource Officers has adopted the "Triad" approach for law-enforcement programs in the schools outlining the role of the school resource officer as that of a teacher, informal counselor, and law enforcement officer.
- Teacher/guest speaker: A member of the faculty supporting school rules and procedures; provider of law-related education to students, parents, and staff; educational resource for classrooms, district groups, community organizations, etc.
- Informal counselor: Someone with the context of knowledge, training, and expertise of a law-enforcement officer who works closely with the school's counselors, social workers, psychologists, nurses, teachers, and administrators; and who can provide information on community services and the law to students, parents, and staff members.
- Law-enforcement officer: An armed, uniformed police officer who Investigates campus crimes and makes arrests. The officer also works with other law-enforcement officers and agencies and becomes the liaison between the school and police community.
Resource officers employing the Triad concept are very effective in collaborating with the school staff and community to make schools safe. One person or group on campus cannot do it alone.
For more information on how School Resource Officers prevent violence in schools, please download and read this report that NASRO published in October 2012 titled "To Protect and Educate: The School Resource Officer and the Prevention of Violence in Schools" Available for free on the NASRO website: http://www.nasro.org/content/protect-and-educate-report.
Kevin Quinn is the president of the National Association of School Resource Officers, in Hoover, Ala.