Expert: School resource officers can’t fix all issues of violence in schools

The debate over school resource officers in Jefferson County Public Schools has reemerged after...
The debate over school resource officers in Jefferson County Public Schools has reemerged after an Eastern High School student was shot and killed while waiting for the bus.(Pixabay)
Published: Sep. 29, 2021 at 7:05 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Benjamin Fisher, a former criminal justice professor at the University of Louisville, believes violence in schools needs more than school resource officers to be solved. Fisher teaches criminal justice at Florida State University with a focus on school resource officers.

While at UofL, Fisher commissioned a study, titled “Protecting the Flock or Policing the Sheep? Differences in School Resource Officers’ Perceptions of Threats by School Racial Composition” which looked at resource officers and the effects they have on the students and teachers they protect. The study examined 73 SROs in two school districts, one suburban and white and the other urban and mostly Black.

Fisher told WAVE 3 News the data showed how those officers perceived threats changed by the school. SROs in the district with a larger proportion of white students were primarily concerned about external threats (i.e., intruder-based and environment-based) that might harm the students, whereas SROs in the district with a larger proportion of Black students were primarily concerned with students themselves as threats.

“I think our big takeaway from this is that how SROs conceive of the work that they do, especially around what’s a threat to the school is very much racialized, at least in the two district we looked at,” Fisher said. “The real focus for those SROs (in the urban district) was on the students themselves as threats and they viewed part of their job as policing the students and to prevent them from sort of causing chaos in the school.”

Fisher acknowledged his study does not paint the full picture and that violence in schools relies on several other societal factors. He told WAVE 3 News in his experience, because SROs are trained as law enforcement officers, not as counselors or teachers, they’re more inclined to punish bad behavior with arrests.

“I don’t think we should be surprised when we see SROs, regardless of their demographic characteristics, interpreting student behavior in terms of crimes and law violations,” Fisher said. “It’s what they’re trained to do.”

Fisher also said violence in schools resembles other societal issues, like drug addiction and homelessness, in that the government has attempted to use police to solve those problems, when they require a more holistic approach.

“SROs are a visible way to show that you’re making an effort towards something,” Fisher said. “And you can spend money on them, and your constituents can see, ‘Oh this is the effort we’ve made to make schools safer. But most of the based evidence-based strategies for preventing or reducing crime in schools don’t fall into those same categories. The hard work of investing in relationships between students and adults around fostering a sense of belonging in the school and having students feel like they care about and are committed to the school. We’ve known for decades that those are things we can do to make schools safer.”

To read more from Fisher, click here.

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