In recent years, SROs have become a popular response to perceived school safety needs. Millions of dollars have been spent to hire, train, and implement SRO programs. Evaluations of the effectiveness of this approach, however, have been limited. Few reliable outcome evaluations have been conducted. Often programs are not designed to facilitate assessment; some SRO programs lack clear safety goals and others do not tie SRO activities to desired outcomes.

In times of limited resources, communities must question how best to allocate police personnel. When choosing to put police in schools police activity should be strategic and intentionally aimed at clearly defined goals.

Based on available research on SRO program effectiveness, the following is recommended for communities:

  • Take an analytical approach to safety problems to clearly understand needs and objectives. This should include a safety needs assessment, goal identification, and program design to meet goals and needs.
  • Be creative. A police-school collaboration can take many forms; one size does not fit all.
  • Regularly assess programs to make sure that desired goals are being met.
  • Be flexible. A strategy that works well at one place or point in time might not fit a later situation; if so, review and revise.

It is possible that new research and information will emerge to guide future SRO program decisions. For instance, when accumulated research indicated that the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program was not as effective in preventing teen drug use as other strategies, many communities decided to redeploy their resources elsewhere.47

Thus, communities should remain open to the many possibilities that exist for addressing school safety needs.

Police departments across the country are experiencing significant staffing shortages and regularly need to assess their most effective resource deployment. It is possible that departments could become short staffed and need to reassign school resource officers. Partnerships that have a comprehensive safety plan in place will be in a position to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their SRO program and if need be to develop alternatives to address their particular safety concerns.