The front line of school safety
Since the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., our nation has entered into an important discussion about school safety. A lot has been said about gun control, about mental health, about arming teachers, and about physical security. What you haven’t heard is the voice of those actually in the trenches, day in and out, protecting kids at our schools. This is the story of the School Resource Officer.
The news has painted the SRO concept as some new idea; something never done before. In actuality, SROs have been around since the 1960s, with origins in Detroit. Today, thousands of SROs are in schools nationwide interacting with students and enhancing the educational process. In the Spokane/North Idaho region, there are over 30 cops that work full-time in schools.
Another story being painted in the media is that SROs are merely armed security guards. This is an unfortunate misunderstanding, as it devalues the work of the fine men and women working in our schools. SROs, in general, are some of the most experienced officers on a police force. Only after years of street work are they placed in schools. These officers volunteer for the assignment. And, typically, these officers stay in their roles for years, out of caring and love for the children of the community. They receive some of the most advanced training in law enforcement.
There is no normal day as an SRO. You will find officers in classes teaching kids about civil rights, safety, and health topics. In the same day, you will find a student crying in a private office with the SRO telling their tale of horrible sexual abuse at the hands of a parent. Daily, you will find school cops confronting trespassers on campus. And yes, you will also find SROs ridding our schools of drugs like marijuana, meth and pills.
Every SRO has private stories of what they have seen that never makes the news. Stories of talking kids out of suicide, stories of homelessness and hopelessness, stories of poverty and stories of abuse. Tales of doing CPR on an unconscious, dying 10-year-old. Serving as a parent figure because a student’s parents are too drugged-out to do the job. SROs see it all. Our greatest pride always comes in June, when we watch these very kids, the ones who came to us for help in a desperate moment, walk across the stage and receive their diplomas. That is why we do this job.
Recently, it became clear to me why students need School Resource Officers. While visiting with a group of kids in the hall, I had a couple more kids come up almost in tears. Their minds were in another place – Newtown. They asked me if they were safe. I wanted to tell them, without a doubt, they were safe. But we all know no person can be 100 percent safe all the time. So, all I could tell them was that I would be with them every day at school, and I would do all in my power to protect them. These students, in the last couple years of their public school education, let out a breath and went back to normal teenage conversation. They were able to head to class, this time with their minds back on normal teenage concerns. The presence of an SRO helped these kids have a normal educational day.
I read stories about the “police state” in our public schools. We are not armed guards and schools are not in a police state. SROs serve in the role of teacher, counselor, trusted confidant and friend, as well as a police officer who happens to be armed in case the worst comes though the door. We have a love for our community that few will ever know, for we promise that if hell comes through that door, we will be there and are willing to give our lives for your children. But in the meantime, we will be in the schools, helping your kids get the best education possible to guarantee a bright future. We are the front line of school safety.
Officer Neil Uhrig is president of the Inland Northwest School Resource Officer Association.