More federal money for school resource officers could be on the way
WASHINGTON, D.C. - You may have heard of a school resource officer. But chances are you’ve never seen one in your child’s school. That’s because most cash-strapped school districts can’t afford one.
The National Association of School Resource Officers estimates that just approximately 20 percent – 1-in-5 – of both public and private schools nationwide have a school resource officer.
But a group of lawmakers, including New York Congressman Tom Reed, are now backing a bill that would help curb that problem.
The School Resource Officer Act would reauthorize the U.S. Justice Department’s “Community Oriented Policing Services” (COPS) program by pumping $300 million from fiscal years 2020-23 to help local districts offset salaries and other costs.
“These are officers in our schools, they’re developing relationships with our kids,” said Reed, an original co-sponsor, regarding his support for the bill. “We would let each school make that application and seek those funds, so it’s not a mandate or anything like that.”
The proposal, which has received bipartisan support among more than a dozen House members, was reintroduced Jan. 30. It would designate 30% of COPS hiring funds for grants to pay the salaries and benefits of SROs; provide grants awarding 75 percent of the salary and benefits for an SRO with a 25 percent local match requirement; and boost the maximum federal share cap to $125,000 per officer position.
“You want to have a long-term commitment when you make these investments, these hires, so that you don’t just get the local communities incurring the expense,” Reed said.
Often times, school resource officers are current or former police officers working in both formal and informal roles with students inside the school. More often than not, the SRO carries a firearm or a similar weapon.
Outside of security, the goal of an SRO is community policing and attempting to establish a relationship with students in an attempt to reduce and deter crime.
However, like previous and similar legislation, this proposal is expected to face stiff opposition from civil rights groups, arguing school resource officers tend to be too aggressive and unnecessarily target minority students.
The American Civil Liberties Union is among the top critics pushing back against law enforcement in schools, alleging SROs contribute to the “school-to-prison pipeline,” according to their website.
“Children are far more likely to be subject to school-based arrests—the majority of which are for nonviolent offenses, such as disruptive behavior—than they were a generation ago,” according to an ACLU statement on their website regarding policing in schools. “These arrests for minor infractions disproportionately target students of color and students with disabilities.”
Requests for an interview with the ACLU were not immediately returned.
Due to the rise in school shootings nationwide in recent years, more districts are hiring SROs and other security. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 63 percent of middle and high schools nationwide had “any security staff” on site at least once a week during the 2005-06 school year. In 2015-16, that number jumped to 72 percent.
For primary, or elementary, schools, the number was much lower: just 26 percent had “any security staff on site at least once a week in 2005-06; ten years later, the number climbed to 45 percent.
When it comes to actual school resource officers on site at least once a week, those numbers drop even further. The number of SROs increased just seven percent at the high school level from 2005 to 2015; and only 30 percent of elementary schools have an SRO, up from just 18 percent a decade before.
Reed recognizes that data and believes more SROs will make schools safer.
“We have law enforcement protecting some of our most valuable assets,” he said. “Why don’t we have them in our schools protecting our most precious assets, our children?”