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Assigning Police Officers to Schools

Response Guide No. 10 (2010)

by Barbara Raymond

Translation(s): Atribuições dos Agentes Policiais designados para as Escolas (Portuguese)


Police agencies have long provided services to schools. It has only been in the past two decades, however, that assigning police officers to schools on a full-time basis has become a widespread practice.1, †† An estimated one-third of all sheriffs' offices and almost half of all municipal police departments assign nearly 17,000 sworn officers to serve in schools.2 Moreover, nearly half of all public schools have assigned police officers. These officers are commonly referred to as school resource officers (SROs) or education resource officers.3, ††† They are intended to serve various roles: safety expert and law enforcer, problem solver and liaison to community resources, and educator. Assigning officers to schools is becoming increasingly popular. SRO programs have been encouraged through federal funding support to local jurisdictions.†††† As the trend toward having police in schools grows, it is important to understand when and how assigning police officers to schools can be an appropriate strategy for schools and police agencies.

† The term "police" is used throughout this guide. It is intended to include other law enforcement officers, such as sheriff's deputies, as well.

†† Prior to the increase in prevalence of School Resource Officers, police presence in schools took various forms, including visible patrols, responses to calls for service, and criminal investigations.

††† The Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Schools Act of 1968, as amended, Title I, Part Q, defines a school resource officer as "a career law enforcement officer, with sworn authority, deployed in community oriented policing, assigned by the employing police department or agency to work in collaboration with schools and community organizations."

†††† For example, the COPS in Schools grant program of the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (the COPS Office) provided funding for SROs in and around primary and secondary schools. Since1999, the COPS Office has awarded over $750 million to more than 3,000 grantees, resulting in the hiring of more than 6,500 SROs (Office of Community Oriented Policing Services,  2008).

This guide summarizes the typical duties of SROs, synthesizes the research pertaining to their effectiveness, and presents issues for communities to bear in mind when considering the adoption of an SRO model. It will be apparent that despite their popularity, few systematic evaluations of the effectiveness of SROs exist. This is a concern as evidence from evaluative research can usefully inform future SRO programs. Consequently, this guide identifies the type of data that can be collected in order to measure program effectiveness. This guide does not provide a history of SRO programs nor does it describe in detail the myriad types of SRO models currently available. Similarly, although this guide highlights specific issues that communities considering the implementation of SRO programs should bear in mind (such as the legal issues that apply to police officers in schools), it is not an authoritative guide to the legal or other special issues that must be addressed with such programs. The guide does however provide additional resources for readers who wish to research these issues.

This guide should benefit the many stakeholders responsible for school safety: police, school officials, community members, students, teachers, and elected officials. It will be of particular interest to police and school administrators who are deciding whether to establish an SRO program and to those seeking to manage an existing program. Finally, the discussion is intended to provide guidance to community members and others who are interested in working with police and schools to improve public safety.

This Response Guide is intended to supplement school-related Problem-Specific Guides, which at the time of this writing include:

† This guide has relevance for the high school context as well.