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Take Action Today: Creating Safe School Environments and Building Bridges

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There are more than 14,000 School Resource Officers (SROs) serving in elementary, middle and high schools across the United States.  As sworn law enforcement officers, they serve as a security presence on school grounds, but also as educators, informal counselors, and role models to the students they work hard to protect.  As a former police officer and SRO with 25 years of experience, Mo Canady’s job has been to keep students safe and ensure schools are positive places for learningOn any given day, Mo, and SROs everywhere could encounter anything from fights, theft, and truancy to verbal and physical abuse. Intense trainings coupled with the background knowledge acquired from seeing these students every day makes SROs key respondents in many difficult school situations. 

The job of law enforcement officers can be challenging, especially when working with young people. I saw it myself as an SRO. My goal every day was to bridge the gap between youth and law enforcement. This is at the core of community policing strategies – to build relationships, earn trust and serve as a resource to youth in need. Each day and every day. Oftentimes this involves addressing bullying that has taken place and working to prevent it in the first place. SROs witness activity on a daily basis that they need to evaluate. Is the activity criminal behavior, such as harassment or assault? Are students joking around? Is intervention necessary?

Because laws vary from state to state, officers need to not only recognize if the behavior is criminal, but also know how to manage an incident to achieve the best outcomes for everyone involved.   

SROs have three critical roles: (1) Law Enforcement (which includes promotion of school safety, crisis management, and addressing criminal behavior), (2) Education, and (3) Informal Counseling. Each year, NASRO provides training to more than 2,000 SRO’s on how to fulfill and balance these roles. We educate SROs on how to manage adolescent emotional issues and behavior, effective communications, working with troubled families, as well as the role and power of social media and how they can use it to create a safer environment. Bullying can happen to any kid, at any time. And our officers are trained to recognize not only high-risk students, who may be bullied; but also to understand and reach out to the kids who are engaging in the bullying activities. We provide an additional set of eyes to be on the lookout for students who need some extra attention. We work with students on an individual basis to show them effective strategies to prevent further bullying, and help students with special needs that may be at greater risk of being bullied.   

One of our most powerful roles is as an educator in the classroom. Students love to learn about constitutional law, and what their rights are, but it’s also important to emphasize personal responsibility, civic duty and the role they play in creating safer communities. SRO’s rely on the StopBullying.gov resources, training materials, and the law enforcement user guide - PDF, to support their classroom bullying prevention efforts. Our educational outreach efforts provide SRO’s the opportunity to engage students as a group, but often it’s the students who approach our officers after the session to ask questions who need the real support and counsel. These are the opportunities to help on a one-on-one level, and build a relationship with that child. 

SROs also have an opportunity to encourage and model behavior for other adults in a school environment. When I was an SRO, I was surprised to witness some pretty bad behavior of boys towards girls in the hallways of middle and high schools. It was a form of bullying, and it needed to stop. I encouraged the SROs in my unit to be a regular presence in hallways, address the bullying as it happened, and encourage teachers to do the same. We saw a remarkable change in attitude among the kids—and among the teachers over time. 

But we don’t, and can’t do this alone. We work closely with all members of the school community to ensure that our work is community-based. This includes the teachers who monitor the halls during class breaks, the principals who are managing disciplinary actions, the school nurses who may see an injury, as well as counselors and school psychologists. We all work as a team to ensure the safest and most supportive learning environments possible for our youth.