Why we must keep school resource officers

While researching the effectiveness of school resource officers (SROs), a student research intern at Virginia Tech, Anna Cheema, erroneously concluded that "there is no research to suggest that SRO's are actually effective in preventing crime and keeping kids safe" in a piece titled "Letter: Remove School Resource Officers" published in the Roanoke Times on November 4, 2020.  By asserting her emotional and ridiculous plea to abolish SROs from schools, Cheema reveals her willful lack of curiosity regarding empirical data on the subject.  Actually, there is myriad evidence of SRO effectiveness clearly documenting a relationship among SRO intervention, disruption, and sometimes outright prevention of shootings at American schools.  How much research did Cheema actually do to come to her conclusion?

Cheema acknowledges one instance where the derelict SRO of MSD High School, Scot Peterson, committed an atrocious and cowardly act, but Cheema becomes dubiously silent about four other school shootings in 2018 when an SRO was effective, saving untold lives.  Those like Cheema are always especially quiet if the SRO deterred or stopped the shooter using his firearm.

Cheema's dangerous stance would only risk the exposure of more students to death and suffering.  Apart from helping create a climate of school safety, SRO duties also include establishing and fostering positive relationships with students, investigating crimes, solving student disputes using conflict resolution methods, and providing mentorship, especially for troubled boys who don't have a positive male role model in their lives, which happens most frequently in minority communities.

Cheema's misinformation attempt about SROs is easily debunked.  The list of eight instances below is just the tip of the iceberg of positive, selfless, and life-saving actions involving SROs.

  • Sullivan Central High School, 8-30-2010

County school director Jubai Yennir "said resource officer Carolyn Gudger and principal Melanie Riden confronted Cowan inside the school entrance and kept him away from students until deputies arrived."

Gudger's "quick-thinking in getting the gunman away from others potentially saved a number of lives, and won her national recognition."

  • Reynolds High School, 6-10-2014

Reynolds High School emergency management director Chris Voss said, "'The fact that there were School Resource Officers on site very much diminished the amount of time,' involved in the incident."

"Having School Resource Officers (SRO) onsite was critical for mitigating loss of life in response to the active shooter incident."

Chief of police Scott Anderson said, "I cannot emphasize enough the role that Mr. Rispler and the responding officers played in saving many, many lives yesterday."

Chief Deputy Jason Gates also explained the vital role of SROs: "the commission they have defused numerous violent incidents in the schools and helped steer troubled students into better career paths."

  • Fern Creek Traditional High School, 9-30-2014

An after-action report was critical about much of the school's response to the shooting, while it "applauded the school's resource officer, who responded to the shooting within one minute."

The report states, "This may show the value of having an SRO in the school.  Would the perpetrator have continued to pursue his intended target instead of fleeing, if the school didn't have an SRO?"

  • Great Mills High School, 3-20-2018

"The swift action of the school's sole resource officer, Blaine Gaskill, was instrumental in bringing the incident to a quick end."

"Gaskill's quick action — confronting Rollins just three minutes after the teen shot two students — has been credited with bringing the incident to a quick end."

  • Forest Hills High School, 4-20-2018

SRO James Long was "praised for quickly confronting the gunman."

"Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods said Long heard a loud bang about 8:39 a.m. and immediately rushed to the source of the sound. Within minutes, at about 8:42 a.m., Long reached the shooting scene and the shooter was in custody."

Sheriff Woods said Long "did not hesitate.  He went right in."

  • Dixon High School, 5-16-2018

SRO Mark Dallas "heard shots near the school gym, rushed toward the noise and in, an exchange of gunfire, struck the shooter, who was quickly arrested."

"School officials and law enforcement alike praised Dallas as a hero for his quick action, crediting him for saving countless lives."

  • Santa Fe High School, 5-18-2018

According to Alexandra Becker of TMC Pulse magazine, once SRO Barnes "confirmed there was an active shooter, he used the edge of the hallway as a shield, then stuck out his arm and fired."  Becker states, "As he turned the corner, he had his arm with his gun out, and as soon as the shooter saw his arm, [the shooter] opened fire."

During an interview Barnes said, "I just wanted to live.  All of us were just trying to make it through it.  We were all fighting for our lives."

Those advocating for abolishing SRO programs in American schools should consider the consequences of their stance and explore how doing so would eliminate the possibility of an SRO making a life-saving impact of someone's life, possibly someone they love, or even theirs.

Image: Tomás Del Coro.

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