I read with interest a newspaper article reporting the comments of officials from a New Hampshire school district concerning a proposal to assign a police officer to the local high school. Board members referred to the community's police officers as “outsiders,” and suggested “they had no business entering the city's schools.” The article indicated that the board voted 7-1 to reject the assignment of a school resource officer, even though grant money was available to cover the expense.
In 1995, I was hired by a New Jersey school district to develop a school resource officer (SRO) program in four of its high schools. There were no serious public-safety issues in those schools, and it was years before the shootings at Columbine and other high schools caught the attention of the nation.
The project was initiated because teachers and other school officials noticed that various ills of society had crept into the classroom. Such conditions were not caused by school employees; they simply mirrored the behaviors taking place in the community at large.
School officials also admitted that the challenges being placed before them exceeded the training or level of skill they possessed as educators. They recognized that if the changes they observed were left unaddressed, conditions would worsen and, ultimately, their abilities to teach would be compromised. They concluded that in order to provide the best possible service to the community, distractions caused by community-generated disorder had to be addressed.
It was a conclusion soon recognized throughout the United States. In fact, the premise behind the COPS Federal Grant Program, which provides funding for police officers in schools, is that schools can benefit by having police officers assigned to their campuses. The belief was so strong that millions of federal dollars were transferred from programs addressing various other public-safety issues so that more police officers could be assigned to school campuses.
I supervised the school police program for seven years and observed the many positive contributions it made. I watched the police officers assigned to each school start as strangers and develop into trusted members of the school communities.
I collected data and analyzed statistics. Those data consistently supported the premise that most of an SRO's time in school involved service activities, such as drug education, violence prevention, conflict resolution and mentoring. As an added benefit, when a violent or disruptive incident did occur on the campus, a trained police officer was already on the scene to handle the situation.
These officers were regarded as members of the school community and viewed by students and staff as contributors to the educational mission. As most school officials have realized, most students want a safe and orderly environment. When those students trust an SRO, they will come forward and share vital information.
School officials would serve their communities well by bringing SROs to their campuses. Professionals other than classroom teachers have joined the ranks of employees working in schools. The time has come to acknowledge that SROs have a vital place in our education system.
Dunn recently was appointed chief of police in Jaffrey, N.H. He previously served 28 years in New Jersey, including seven as chief of a high school campus police department. Chief Dunn holds a B.A. in criminal justice and a master's degree in education.