Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Common Roles for School Resource Officers

Officers in schools provide a wide array of services. Although their duties can vary considerably from community to community, the three most typical roles of SROs are safety expert and law enforcer, problem solver and liaison to community resources, and educator.

† These are the three primary roles for SROs recognized by the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (1999).

Safety Expert and Law Enforcer

As sworn police officers, SROs play a unique role in preserving order and promoting safety on campus by, for example:

  • Assuming primary responsibility for handling calls for service from the school and in coordinating the response of other police resources
  • Addressing crime and disorder problems, gangs, and drug activities occurring in or around the school
  • Making arrests and issuing citations on campus
  • Providing leads and information to the appropriate investigative units
  • Taking action against unauthorized persons on school property
  • Serving as hall monitors, truancy enforcers, crossing guards, and operators of metal detectors and other security devices
  • Responding to off-campus criminal mischief that involves students
  • Serving as liaisons between the school and the police and providing information to students and school personnel about law enforcement matters.4

Beyond serving in a crime prevention and response role, SROs are likely to serve as first responders in the event of critical incidents at schools, such as accidents, fires, explosions, and other life threatening events. In addition, SROs often support advance planning for managing crises, including assisting with:

  • Developing incident response systems
  • Developing and coordinating emergency response plans (in conjunction with other emergency responders)
  • Incorporating law enforcement onto school crisis management teams
  • Developing protocols for handling specific types of emergencies
  • Rehearsing such protocols using tabletop exercises, drills, and mock evacuations and lockdowns.5

Problem Solver and Liaison to Community Resources

In the school setting, problem solving involves coordinated efforts among administrators, teachers, students, parents, mental health professionals, and community-based stakeholders. SROs frequently assist in resolving problems that are not necessarily law violations, such as bullying or disorderly behavior, but which are nonetheless safety issues that can result in or contribute to criminal incidents. Helping resolve these problems frequently requires the officer to act as a resource liaison, referring students to professional services within both the school (guidance counselors, social workers) and the community (youth and family service organizations). In particular, SROs often build relationships with juvenile justice counselors, who are responsible for supervising delinquent youths, connecting them with needed services, and recommending diversionary activities.

Problem-solving activities commonly include:

  • Developing and expanding crime prevention efforts for students
  • Developing and expanding community justice initiatives for students
  • Assisting in identifying environmental changes that can reduce crime in or around schools
  • Assisting in developing school policies that address crime and recommending procedural changes to implement those policies.6

Educator

A police officer can serve as a resource for classroom presentations that complement the educational curriculum by emphasizing the fundamental principles and skills needed for responsible citizenship, as well as by teaching topics related to policing.7 SROs can present courses for students, faculty, and parents. Although SROs teach a variety of classes, there is no research indicating which classes are most useful or how to ensure an officer’s effectiveness in the teaching role. Topics commonly covered in an SRO curriculum include:

  • Policing as a career
  • Criminal investigation
  • Alcohol and drug awareness
  • Gang and stranger awareness and resistance
  • General crime prevention
  • Conflict resolution
  • Restorative justice
  • Babysitting safety
  • Bicycling, pedestrian, and motor vehicle safety
  • Special crimes in which students are especially likely to be offenders or victims, such as vandalism, shoplifting, and sexual assault by acquaintances.8

The above describes the various services provided by SROs. Although there is considerable diversity in the structure of programs and the specific activities of SROs, surveys find that most officers spend at least half their time engaging in law enforcement activities. Over half of SROs advise staff, students, and families, spending about a quarter of their time in this way, and one-half of SROs engage in teaching, on average for about five hours per week. Six to seven SRO hours per week are typically devoted to other activities.9

The variety of program structures and activities can lead to confusion about what individual programs are meant to accomplish and how to assess and measure their effectiveness. In particular, school and police officials often conceptualize the role of the SRO differently. Although school officials tend to view SROs as first responders, SROs themselves often view their roles more broadly, giving greater weight to job functions that represent an expansion of the traditional security officer role.10 For instance, more police than principals report that SROs did more than maintain order. Police also report significantly more teaching activity than do principals.11