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Using Community Policing in Schools to Prevent and Respond to Bullying and Intolerance

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Community policing is a philosophy revolving around the concept of law enforcement and the community working together to ensure public safety for all in the community. By engaging in partnerships, problem solving, and organizational change, a law enforcement agency can approach public safety in a comprehensive, proactive method. Community policing is neither a program nor a single policing unit, however, it is a philosophy that involves all within the agency and the community.

Community policing can be applied to any setting, including schools. By following community policing, school resource officers (SROs) and school safety personnel can contribute to a productive and enriching environment for students, teachers, and administrators alike. SROs are able to be a strong role model for students all while providing positive interactions between youth and law enforcement.

For some students, the SRO provides them an opportunity to interact with law enforcement in a non-confrontational and positive manner. It is important that schools and law enforcement agencies enter into an agreement around the role and responsibility of SROs as well as their role around discipline and punishment.

Officers are able to use the principles of community policing (problem solving, partnerships, and organizational transformation) to ensure that they are supporting students, teachers, staff, and school administrators in creating a safe environment. Across the U.S., an estimated 160,000 children miss school every day for fear of attack or intimidation by other students, and approximately 22% of students age 12-18 experience bullying - PDF. Students who are bullied are at increased risk for depression, anxiety, and poor school performance.

There is something we can do about bullying. It is important to recognize and identify intolerance and hate in our schools and communities. A simple word or phrase may be insensitive or hurtful to a young person but by responding swiftly and fairly to an incident of bullying or intolerance, larger and more significant incidents may be prevented.

SROs are in a unique position to prevent and respond to bullying and intolerance. Officers in conjunction with school staff can exercise five tasks to prevent and respond to bullying and intolerance:

  • Recognize and Respond – Educate students, parents, teachers, and staff on bullying and intolerance, and the importance of taking incidents seriously. Create a response plan for when a situation arises and ensure that the response is both swift and fair.
  • Create Dialogue – Provide opportunities for open dialogue with youth about bullying and intolerance especially around their feelings, problems, or ideas.
  • Encourage Bystanders to Become “Upstanders” – Create an environment where youth feel empowered to stand up for themselves and others. Research has shown that when peers intervene, they can stop the majority of bullying incidents within 10 seconds.
  • Foster Safety and Inclusion – Create an environment where youth feel that they can trust law enforcement and feel comfortable bringing issues and incidents to them. Additionally, officers need to listen, pay attention, and offer support.
  • Educate – Provide information and awareness to the larger community. Preventing and responding to bullying and intolerance through community policing should involve the entire community and not just law enforcement.

The Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (the COPS Office) and Not In Our Town have expanded this work and developed numerous resources for law enforcement, schools, and community members to help create safe, inclusive communities.