SROs and the School Police… Is There a Difference?
In the early 1990s, in response to a rising threat of violence in schools across the country, the national School Resource Officer (SRO) Program was expanded considerably. Although the concept had been in existence since the ‘60s, it has undergone significant changes and has become increasingly effective through systematic evaluation and enhancement over the years. Seemingly, the School Police employed by the Miami-Dade County Public Schools system are no different. Or are we?
As Chief of the Miami-Dade Schools Police Department (M-DSPD), I am often asked the question, “Are your School Police officers the same as SROs?” To answer this question, it is necessary to understand what the SRO actually is. The National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) defines SRO as “a full sworn/commissioned law enforcement officer whose primary assignment is within the local schools for the purpose of enforcing laws (when applicable), conducting law related workshops/presentations to the students, faculty and parents, and counseling/mentoring students.” The SRO program is typically directed at delinquency prevention and relies heavily on cooperation with local law enforcement. SROs act as a deterrent to criminal behavior through positive interactions with students, parents, and staff, and by their presence on the school campus.
The M-DSPD is at once, a traditional American police department – operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year – with a patrol services function operating after regular school hours. Among their many tasks, these patrol officers scour the District, safeguarding school facilities and property and locating missing children. The M-DSPD, however, also employs a specialized school and community based policing model.
As a microcosm of society, violence in our schools mirrors the violence occurring in the surrounding neighborhoods. The community based policing model utilized by our agency is designed to bring School Police, students, parents, faculty and the entire community together in a cooperative effort to prevent crime, reduce the fear of crime, and lower the incidence of juvenile delinquency. The M-DSPD continually seeks innovative strategies and partnerships to reduce youth and community violence, and to decrease the number of juveniles that enter the Juvenile Justice System (JJS) by way of arrests. In fact, the philosophy of the M-DSPD – whether the officer is assigned to a school or to the “streets” on after-hours patrol – is one of “prevention, intervention, education and enforcement as a last resort.” Our commitment to this cause is evidenced by the great number of partnerships we have established with social workers, educators, school psychologists, TRUST counselors, faith based leaders, parents, community based organizations and other outside agencies.
In addition to our regular interaction with community partners within the JJS and child advocacy circles, including the Department of Children and Families, Juvenile Services Department, the courts and many others, we are closely involved with many entities within the District to address youth/community violence and mental health awareness. Through our partnership with the District’s Office of Mental Health and Crisis Management, the School Police recognize mental health as a major contributor to what is often perceived as juvenile misconduct and/or criminal acts, when in fact the underlying issue(s) may actually be a manifestation of a psychological illness or condition. In these instances, School Police Officers recognize that an arrest, suspension or expulsion may not be in the best interest of the child; instead, clinical services, evaluations and other psychological assessments may be of far greater value to the youth, and would be the prescribed courses of action.
The School Police have taken on many aspects of a full-scale SRO program – one based on the development of a meaningful and constructive police / school partnership. In that sense, School Police Officers are the embodiment of a true “resource” for the school – teacher, administrator, counselor, mentor, and yes, enforcer. They are absolutely no different, therefore, than other SROs assigned to schools, both having the same fundamental goals: police and citizens working together, utilization of innovative problem solving, constant contact and consultation with the school and surrounding community, ownership and responsibility to school, and the opportunity for students, parents, faculty, and the surrounding community to be active in the crime reduction process. On the other hand, with the wider array of services provided by the School Police every single day to the entire community, there really is no comparison…
Written by Charles J. Hurley, Chief of Police
Miami-Dade Schools Police Department