School Resource Officer Kristan Rinell’s consistent presence in the life of one student has been a powerful offset to years of instability. Rinell constantly encouraged this young woman to “just show up” when she contemplated dropping out of school and connected the student’s family with social services after they were evicted from their home. Rinell proudly shares that this student is living in a stable environment and will graduate next spring with greater possibilities for her future.
The function of school resource officers (SRO) goes well beyond traffic control, responding to criminal activity in schools and safety planning for critical incidents. The four SROs assigned to public and private schools frequently educate and build rapport with students, serving as role models and confidants who can intervene when young people get off track. They are prepared to provide education to students as needed on a variety of topics ranging from internet and personal safety to drug prevention. They also attend various events such as dances, football games, back-to-school nights and may perform traffic control duties for some events.
Students often confide in SROs about troubles in their homes or wayward activities that they or their friends may be engaged in such as shoplifting, using drugs or posting risqué photos online. There are instances when SROs get involved when a child is exhibiting truancy. Because of this information, SROs have been able to intervene with kids and their parents before problems intensify.
Familiarity informs SROs' responses to problems. Through experience, SROs refine their communication skills with middle and high schoolers. Personal connections with students and school staff inform their approach to deescalating problem behavior, which is helpful when kids are experiencing mental health issues. SROs also communicate with patrol officers responding to incidents at a student’s home, which leads to more effective responses. Developing respectful relationships with kids helps ease their concerns about interacting with the police if they need to in the future.
Because of the relationships with staff, when SROs recommend an intervention or policy, they are more likely to follow through. Staff also feels comfortable checking in when something is happening in the school that seems askew. They don’t hesitate to alert SROs when kids are expressing threats to themselves or others. SROs partner with school administrators, counselors, parents and teachers to formulate a plan including the resources needed to address a problem. Some issues that school staff and officer may collaborate on include dealing with bullying, harassment, custody disputes and related restraining orders. Officers may also need to work with the Department of Health Services if there is child abuse happening in the home as well as work with staff seeing evidence of these issues in the classroom.
SROs organize lock down and lock in drills so that they are ready to respond to a critical incident such as an active shooter. They also organize reunification with family after a significant event.
SROs are an important resource to students and staff. Connecting with students at schools allows them to get involved before problems escalate.