Defining School Resourcing Roles

Defining the Roles of School Police

Focusing on youth development needs and professional development for officers.

As a reaction to their own nationally highlighted incident in 2015, Richland County (SC) Sheriff Office (RCSO) School Resource Officer (SRO) program sought to revise their roles, activities and approaches to working with youth in the schools.

Location: Richland County, SC

There are divided opinions about the roles and impacts of school police and security officers for today’s youth. For the last 70 years, police officers or security officers in schools have tried to balance the roles of mentor, counselor, and law enforcer. Long-term impacts from mass incarceration, intergenerational violence and disadvantages among communities have led to new challenges of suicide, violence, and mental health needs among students. The ability of police or security officers to address these challenges have expanding roles into crisis intervention and emergency management, while stressing the need for counselors and social work approaches in the schools. The balance of these roles have led to both successes (e.g., higher school engagement and graduation achievement) and failures (e.g., uses of force against youth, criminalization of trauma and crisis behavior).

School police or security officers to the school environment, which is no longer about arrests and criminal behavior. The inclusion of social determinants and youth behavior data can help an agency understand individual and community needs. Today, educators and school safety programs are focused on trauma-informed practices and returning to restorative and rehabilitative approaches to support youth development.

For Richland County, the need to evaluate activities, resources and processes to ensure focus on positive youth development became a priority. Implementing new approaches to youth interactions resulted in a three-year project to shift training, partnerships and performance management measures for their SRO program.

Timeline: 36 months

IDEA Analytics guided RCSO SROs through data collection and reporting processes which measured their activities, quantified officers’ roles, and identified concerns among students.

IDEA Analytics leveraged performance-based management principles to develop a data collection plan that identified how interactions among SROs and students occurred, the content and purpose of interactions, and their outcomes. With a goal to develop trauma-informed responses to youth behaviors and address crime and disorder in the school, the initial evaluation allowed IDEA Analytics to engage with RCSO SROs and school personnel through individual interviews and focus groups. Storyboards of interaction scenarios captured perceptions about how and why disturbances in the schools occurred, how stakeholders engaged during responses and interactions with students, parents and other resources, and what outcomes that were available for SROs.

Key Strategies:

Developing a Program Profile & Supporting SROs

Since SROs dealt with so many issues, which varied by school level, developing a profile of program activities allowed leadership to develop professional development sessions to support the work of the SRO. IDEA Analytics supported the implementation of a real-time data collection solution, which also supported qualitative and quantitative analysis for the 2017-2018 school year. Evaluation of these interactions enabled a program-wide profile to be developed.

Robust evaluation of SRO activities 

Agile technology implementation with performance measures for priorities

Storyboarding and scenario analysis of roles were used to open dialogue and facilitate stakeholder communications

Understanding Interactions

Students emotional outbursts were often tied to incidents of physical and sexual abuse, family instability, homelessness and anxiety about school.

Interactions among students and officers varied from general greetings and encouragements for tests to addressing depression or anxiety, responding to fights, and investigating criminal offenses. Analysis for the first six months of the school year indicated SROs interacted many officers dealt with a lot of anger and emotional outbursts from students, as well as issues of property loss/theft, fights, and weapons. Details from interviews and interaction forms also emphasized issues such as hunger and homelessness, physical and sexual child abuse, and substance abuse among many students. The details and persistence of these issues continued with each monthly analysis of interactions.

Project Results

With 55 percent of interactions being Counselor incidents, the RCSO SRO program focused training and professional development on conflict mediation and resolution and trauma-informed responses.

Clashing cultures among stakeholders often hinder multi-systems change. Dedicated leadership, supporting data, and youth-focused solutions can ease the pains of change. For school police or security officers, understanding that there are different needs at each school level, as well as understanding the changes in youth development stages, can assist in developing a trauma-sensitive approach to responding to instances in the school.

New perspectives about SRO activities and role within the schools.

Further understanding by staff about shifts of student behavior throughout the year.

Officers could focus on developing responses to the youth risks related to self, family, and community that were previously unnoticed or misunderstood.

New conversations with school stakeholders regarding interactions and services to support youth.

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