This is third in the series of Arthur Isaacson’s “Behind the Scenes” look at the role of the School Resource Officer or SRO. To ; to
During my interviews, particularly with the current students, there were some surprises on both sides.
Though the students and staff were aware of the SRO's ability to deal with medical issues, none of them knew all our police are trained to be First Responders.
Clinton is unlike many other towns in that regard. It's part of the reason many residents feel more secure here. I've seen numerous letters in the papers from residents, thanking our emergency services for their quick, efficient and compassionate actions.
One major surprise was the apparent failure of the program to change the general view of the police in the student's eyes. At least those I interviewed. It was clear when talking with the current students, that they viewed the SRO in a different way than other police.
As expressed by one young lady, they saw the Resource officer as being with them, involved in their lives and aware of what is going on. Someone who, by virtue of close and trusted proximity, understood the conditions the students lived with. The rest of the police were just law enforcement.
This perception, however, was not the one I got from a Morgan graduate who said the SRO experience had improved his view of all the police and his relationship to the rest of the town. The students were also unaware and surprised at the number of incidents that had needed attention during the first ten months of this year, but one young man said he didn't think that was information they needed to know.
Information from other past graduates varied from very positive and a suggestion that the SRO be more involved in school activities (which the current students agreed with), to one who said he hardly noticed their presence and didn't think we needed them.
As a general observation, the Morgan undergraduates I had the pleasure of meeting with for this article, (four young ladies and three young men) impressed me. Though reticent at first, their responses were frank, incisive and serious. They obviously felt the SRO program made them feel safer and was a needed resource for them.
Also on their minds, as expressed by an upper classman, was the concern over what they saw as an increasingly troublesome freshman class. There was genuine concern expressed for their younger fellow students. It was a responsible attitude that to me showed they really understood the issues we were there to discuss.
Though not appearing to want to say so, when I suggested that there were things they didn't want to discuss with their parents or school officials, they readily admitted, expressed by a young lady who sat quietly until then, that was the case. The SRO gave them an acceptable resource with which to handle their dilemma.
The SRO has the unenviable and challenging task of understanding the teen school environment, weaving the information they are privy to, into a picture of their society, in a way that permits them to sense when something is wrong and needs attention. Looked at from this perspective, the need for consistency, continuity and sensitive well-trained personnel, is essential.
Lastly, speaking to parents of students that had experienced the SRO program, most were very much in favor and saw it as being a resource for them as well. The interchange of non-private information helped them keep abreast of the teen goings-on in the community, which was an aid to their parenting.
One had no idea of what the program entailed, but held no negative impressions and actually felt good about the fact that his child seemed to be on friendly terms with an SRO they happened to meet outside of the school environment. Of course those without children in the system and little exposure to the schools generally, except for the budget, had little understanding of the details, but didn't express a negative attitude: Just seemed unsure.
You the voters will have to decide if the program is worth about $80,000 a year in the police budget, versus its impact on the school system whose budget is approximately $30 million.
It's not a simple issue and there are no hard and fast numbers or studies to look at. Though I can't say what the correct answer is, I can tell you my impressions of those I have interviewed, including administrators, school parents, nonschool parents, police, School Resource Officers and students, past and present.
All, in my view, were and are serious about the issues that face them in the schools and its environment. All wanted the best outcome for the children and the community and all, as I've said earlier, wanted it done right (full time, in their view) or not at all.
I've spent two months researching, interviewing and looking into the eyes of those living it. I've considered the opinions of the professionals I've discussed it with and it still comes down to gut feeling.
My feeling is that it's worthwhile, but you need to have your own questions answered before you decide. I've tried to shed as much light on the subject as I could because it is an important issue, which is not as well understood as it should be.
As you know, I usually end my articles with the subjects answering the same four questions:
What is the hardest part of the job? What is the best part of the job? What is the most frustrating part of the job? What would they change, if they could?
In this case, I have distilled, in the body of the article, the essence of what was said. It just scratched the surface of the insight and passion expressed by the SRO's. Because of that, I have separated their views in order to give them the significance they deserve.
Next week you will find the verbatim input of the officers under the title "In their own words."
Until next time,