After the Newtown massacre, the NRA called for armed police in every public school in America. That didn’t happen. But hundreds if not thousands of schools (including Newtown) responded unilaterally. There are now Student Resource Officers (SROs) throughout America, not just in “troubled” schools. Regular readers will recall that I opposed this move on several grounds. For one thing, it’s a tactical mistake . . .
SROs are an obvious “shoot me first” target for a spree killer or terrorist. As our simulation of the Sandy Hook spree killing demonstrated, even when an identifiable armed defender knows an attack was imminent, an active shooter can remove them from the equation without delay. It’s far better to have armed teachers, administrators or staff who can’t be singled-out by an armed invader or invaders.
Plural. The chances of an SRO stopping multiple attackers are lower still. Given what happened in Columbine, given the horror at Belsen (where more than a dozen terrorists murdered 385 people), it’s foolish to think that future school attacks will necessarily resemble Adam Lanza’s lone wolf attack on the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Simply put, the more unidentifiable armed defenders in any one school, the better.
For another thing, Student Resource Officers are a problem waiting to happen. Yes, I know: the vast majority of these on-site trained police are honest, upright individuals who, no doubt, help students outside their active shooter guard duty. But the fact of the matter is that the odds that an SRO will be needed in any one school can be rounded down to zero. Which means that you have a lot of police officers in schools with nothing to do.
Predictably, they find things to do. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that SROs can be a serious threat to student safety. Here are two recent examples from policemisconduct.net (video of the first incident above):
Louisville, KY: An officer who worked as an SRO at a middle school was arrested for assaulting two 13-year-old students. Both incidents were caught on video. He appears to punch one in the face, with injuries that sent the student to the hospital. In a separate incident, he appears to put another student in a choke hold that rendered him unconscious. The officer cuffed him and took him home without medical treatment and without telling the boy’s parents what happened. According to the news report, the student suffered brain damage from the choke-hold incident. ow.ly/ItJPB
Bothell, Washington: An officer working as an SRO at a high school was charged with sexual misconduct for having a sexual relationship with a then-17-year-old student. ow.ly/Iua73
Here’s are three more SRO sexual misconduct reports from last year:
Nassau County, Florida: A deputy who recently served as a school resource officer was fired from the department following his arrest. He faces sexual battery and lewd and lascivious charges in connection with an incident with a student. He allegedly confessed he had a sexual relationship with a teenager. ow.ly/m6Kgb
Conroe, Texas: A police sergeant was charged with having an improper sexual relationship with a student. “The law clearly states that sexual relationships are prohibited between employees of educational facilities, like high schools, and their students,” said the DA. ow.ly/i3OfY
Hampton County, South Carolina: A deputy was indicted on one count of criminal sexual conduct with a minor between 11 and 14, committing a lewd act on a minor, and misconduct in public office. The incidents occurred while he was working as a school resource officer. . ow.ly/i2XHi
Needless to say, these are incidents that have seen the light of day. I don’t think it unfair to assume that there have been many more crimes committed by SROs that have not made the news, either because they were never reported or hushed up and settled behind closed doors. Is the possibility of a fatal negligent discharge by an armed school staff member greater than the possibility that an SRO will victimize students? Show me one example of the former to compare with numerous examples of the latter.
You could say that we could reduce or eliminate these unintended consequences by making sure there’s someone policing the police in our schools. [The National Association of School Resource Officers’ website has nothing to say on the matter.] You could also argue that the damage done by “rogue” SROs is the price we pay for the security and/or deterrence that the clean-living majority provide against active shooters. But that begs the question posed above: what security do SROs really provide? Do we need them?
There are schools where SROs deal with a lot more than the possibility of active shooters. Schools where SROs arrest drug dealers, stop bullying, prevent gang warfare and/or keep the peace. There are also schools that have managed to control or eliminate these issues without the expense, cultural clash and yes, danger of on-site SROs. As for the SROs’ educational value (touted by their National Association), that work can be done during occasional visits. And I repeat: an SRO is not the best way to defend against spree killers or terrorists.
When it comes to this vital mission, there’s no getting around the fact that multiple armed school staff are not only the best method for defending against violent attack, they are the only effective method for defending against violent attack – until armed police respond. Some schools have acknowledged the truth of that statement and acted accordingly. Most have not. Unfortunately, it’s only a matter of time before these schools see the error of their ways. A lesson that some poor parents will pay for with their children’s blood.