Police officers are commonly seen in high schools and many middle schools, but is the trend now spreading to our public elementary schools? Indeed, some school and police leaders are working to increase the number of officer positions in public schools—regardless of the age range of the school’s students.
Increasing Police Presence in Public Schools
While the title “school resource officer” may sound unfamiliar to those who graduated from high school more than 10 years ago, positions for police officers in schools are quite commonplace today. As All Academic explains, School Resource Officers (SROs) have been appearing in schools across the country at steadily rising rates in recent years.
Ideally, the SROs are available to help provide leadership examples for all students on campus; however, their influence in the schools can certainly have an impact that extends beyond these intentions. SROs are usually hired and paid by the local police force (not by the local schools), and subsequently, many believe that “The presence of these officers shapes the school social climate and students’ legal socialization.”
Interestingly, however, some high schools have reported an increase in student misbehaviors after officers have been assigned to the campus. Subsequently, many elementary school leaders are experimenting with SROs in the hopes that “legal socialization” at an early age can help prevent behavior problems in the middle and high school years. These proponents believe that teaching elementary students the benefits of law enforcement professionals will translate into positive attitudes towards SROs during adolescence and adulthood.
Police Officers in Public Elementary Schools
South Carolina provides an intriguing example of how elementary schools and the police department are working together to improve future relationships, According to The Island Reporter & The Beaufort Gazette, Sheriff P.J. Tanner of Beaufort County has requested funds from a federal grant in order to place more school resource officers in elementary schools, hoping that these efforts will “Give young children positive exposure to law enforcement.”
Upon evaluating his initial request for approximately $800,000 in federal funds, the US Department of Justice declined his application. Recently, however, sources reveal that the US Department of Justice will be reevaluating their earlier decision, as the benefits of increasing school officers at elementary schools may certainly outweigh any anticipated costs.
Currently, all of Beaufort County’s four high schools, six middle schools, and the Career-Academy school are equipped with full time SROs. Unfortunately, none of the elementary schools benefit from this full time support. Arguing for immediate action and change, Sheriff Tanner asserts, “Those are critical times in a child's life…We're missing out on what an impression a uniformed law officer can make on children's lives prior to middle school.”
Although there is minimal crime at the local Beaufort elementary schools, Tanner argues that that one of the largest surges in crime-related activity among younger individuals occurs between the ages of 11-14. In examining Tanner’s argument, statistics prove that in the year 2007 to 2008, 94 Beaufort children were assigned to juvenile crime facilities, while there were a total of 197 prosecutions in this same age bracket. In examining the rise in crime among youth,
Beaufort experienced a surge of students assigned to juvenile-crime facilities, increasing by 115 kids from 2008 to 2009. In addition, there were 212 prosecutions of juveniles during this year as well.
As many school and community leaders agree, reaching out to elementary school children can foster a better relationship with the law in the future. By showcasing the positive relationship individuals can develop with police officers, elementary schools hope to reduce criminal tendencies that begin to arise in adolescence. The trend is growing throughout the United States, which means a police officer may be coming to a public elementary school near you!