An important group of support-staff members—school resource officers, also known as school-based law enforcement—has been hit hard by the recent recession and its lingering impact.
Kevin Quinn, a spokesman for the National Association of School Resource Officers, says that several years ago, the Hoover, Ala.-based organization estimated there were 10,000 to 15,000 such officers nationwide. Now, the group estimates the number at closer to 7,000.
“If we used our training conference that we host every year [as a reference], I’d say between 2007 and 2009, it dropped to about half the attendees,” he says.
Funding for school resource officers, or SROs, can come from any number of sources, but often at least part of it comes from the local police department. “With how the economy changed several years ago, police departments are figuring out where the funding should go,” Quinn says. “You can’t take cops and detectives off the street. So some decided that SRO programs unfortunately were the first ones to get cut.”
The consequences of those cuts are more dire than they might have been 60 years ago, when such officers were initially placed in schools so that students could see police officers in friendly roles.
More recently, “the role of the SRO has evolved into actual police,” says Quinn, who currently serves as the law-enforcement officer at Hamilton High School in the 40,000-student Chandler, Ariz., district.
In addition to giving presentations on the law, drugs, violence, and community issues, officers today are also the first responders to incidents of school violence.
And in some cases, on-site police have proved invaluable. In September 2010, Erik Karney, the SRO at Socastee High School in Myrtle Beach, S.C., restrained a student who had several pipe bombs and a gun—just after the student fired at him, hitting him with shrapnel. A subsequent investigation found that the student had been planning a school shooting modeled after the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado.
The recent tragic events in Newtown, Conn., have ramped up rhetoric on the need for putting SROs—who are necessarily armed—in schools.
“We’ve heard of a lot of legislators writing legislation proposing additional funding to increase officers in schools—especially elementary schools, since most SROs are in junior high and high schools,” says Quinn. Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, where 20 students and six teachers were shot and killed by an intruder, did not have an SRO on staff.
There has also been a recent increase in requests from districts wanting to host training for new SROs, says Quinn, which he sees as a good sign.
“A school resource officer is your first responder, with no response time. ... If something happens, I’m already here, I know the campus, I know the kids, I know where to go,” he says. “I don’t care if your police department has the best response time in the world—there’s still a lag time between picking up the phone and having an officer respond.”
This story has been updated from the print version of Quality Counts 2013.