A new report on school policing conducted by the Cutler Institute at the University of Southern Maine concludes there is “limited evidence” to show the practice significantly curbs violent incidents.
Funded by the Maine Juvenile Justice Advisory Group, the study examines Maine’s growing use of school resource officers (SROs).
"SRO programs have proliferated across the country without corresponding evidence that they improve school safety,” the report’s lead author, Danielle Layton, said in a news release. “What we know from the national research is that policing campuses has not significantly reduced school violence but it has led to more youth being referred to the juvenile justice system, particularly for behaviors that were previously handled through school disciplinary channels but began to be labeled disorderly conduct.”
The report found that while many school districts have been hiring more SROs, they have not appropriately staffed social workers, guidance counselors, psychologists and other support professionals.
“The use of a law enforcement officer in the role of a social worker is deeply concerning as it can very easily lead to breaching students’ constitutional rights,” Ned Chester, a defense attorney and a member of the Juvenile Justice Advisory Group, said in the news release.
“Students who see Officer Friendly every day in the lunchroom are going to confide in that officer who they perceive as available and trustworthy, but what law enforcement then does with that information can have devastating impacts on the kid, their family or their peers,” Chester added.
To address the study’s findings, its authors also put forth several recommendations, including:
- Provide uniform guidance, ensuring schools with SRO programs work from an up-to-date Memorandum of Agreement.
- Adopt “holistic” school safety. “Before funding an SRO program, schools should ensure they are employing student support professionals in the recommended ratios to the student body (e.g. school counselors 1:250, social workers 1:250, psychologists 1:700, nurses 1:750).”
- Standardizing SRO training to show best practices.