The SRO ... Semi-retired officer? Kindergarten cop? Not anymore! Long gone are the days of “Officer Friendly” where a local police officer was nothing more than a smiling uniform that stopped by the school once in a while giving out stickers to the children. The school resource officer (SRO) is a specially trained, valuable member of both the police department and the school community. The SRO is the first responder for all incidents that occur on their campus. An SRO must be a traffic cop, detective, counselor, juvenile law expert and educator all rolled into one—and be able to switch hats as quickly as you are reading this.
As the president of the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO), I have the opportunity to travel and visit with campuses as we conduct our training. We always ask the attendees why they want to work in the schools. The answers we get today have changed from those of years ago. It used to be, “Work Monday through Friday with nights, weekends and holidays off.” Now, the answers we get are more along the lines of, “I want to work with kids. I want to make a difference in my community. I want to do what I can to keep the schools safe.”
Today’s SRO knows this isn’t a “vacation” assignment. Today’s SRO is critical to the safety of our communities and our schools.
What We Do
Currently, NASRO is the largest training organization for LEOs, school safety and education personnel in the world. NASRO contracts with police academies, community-oriented policing centers, criminal justice programs, school districts and attorney generals’ offices, as well as numerous law enforcement agencies, to train and develop school based policing for LEOs, teachers and school administrators.
The goal is to provide sound training for SROs and school personnel, allowing them to better perform their jobs. It accomplishes this through its annual NASRO Conference and training courses, which are held in various locations nationally and internationally.
NASRO continues to offer preventive strategies to enhance those protective factors, especially bonding to the family, school and community, which appear to foster the development of resiliency in young people who may be at risk for criminal activity, substance abuse or other problem behaviors. The successful SRO program is a collaborative effort by certified LEOs, educators, students, parents and the community to offer law-related educational programs in the schools in an effort to reduce crime, drug abuse, violence, and provide a safe school environment.
NASRO furthers its effort to implement and share innovative approaches toward law-related education and promotes SRO programs where none exist. NASRO adopted the “Triad” approach for law enforcement programs in the schools, outlining the role of the SRO as that of a teacher, informal counselor and LEO.
The Triad is:
Teacher/guest speaker: A member of the faculty supporting school rules and procedures; a provider of law-related education to the students, parents and staff; an educational resource for classrooms, district groups, community organizations, etc.
Informal counselor: Work within the context of knowledge, training and expertise of a LEO; work closely with the school’s counselors, social workers, psychologists, nurses, teachers and administrators; provide information on community services and the law to students, parents and staff.
Law enforcement officer: armed, uniformed police officer who investigates crimes and makes arrests. The school becomes the SRO’s “district” or “beat” and the SRO is responsible for the calls for service there. They work with other LEOs and agencies and become the liaison between the school and police community.
Over the past couple of years, there have been assaults on SROs by suspects who had planned larger school attacks but knew that they first must deal with the only person on the campus who had the ability to stop them.
On Tuesday, April 5, 2011, Officer Kenneth Fridlund was assigned to Carwise Middle School in Pinellas County, Fla., as the SRO. A student summoned him into the restroom, stating that he had to show the officer something. As Fridlund stepped into the threshold of the bathroom, the student lunged at him with a 4-inch bladed tactical knife, stabbing Officer Fridlund in the right abdomen, below his ballistic vest.
As they were struggling, the student violently and repeatedly jerked Fridlund’s sidearm. The officer was able to reach his pepper spray as he continued to struggle against the attempts to disarm him, but Fridlund prevailed. Located in the bathroom stall was a duffle bag containing 11 glass bottles rigged as gasoline bombs.
On September 21, 2010, Officer Erik Karney was assigned as the SRO to Socastee High School in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. A 14-year-old student entered Karney’s office and confronted the SRO. The student pulled out a handgun and a struggle ensued.
The student fired one shot before he was subdued and taken into custody by Karney, who received only minor injuries from this attack. The student had a backpack in his possession that contained two pipe bombs that he planned on detonating in the school.
Both Fridlund and Karney received the “Award of Valor” from the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) in 2011 for their actions in keeping a tragedy from occurring in the schools they were entrusted with.
The relationships that are built between the SRO and students are the best crime prevention tool we have. Officers provide an outlet for students who might be reluctant to speak with administrators or teachers. Allow me to share with you a perfect example.
Recently, a young girl came into the office at East Central High School in Tulsa and asked to see the SRO, whom she knew as “Coach Pitts.” Garry Pitts, the SRO assigned to ECHS from the Tulsa Public Schools Campus Police Department, also volunteers his time to coach the girls’ basketball team.
The young student was told the officer was not in the office and the staff asked if they could help her. “No,” she said. The student left the office and was stopped by a teacher who asked where she was going. She again insisted that she needed to see Coach Pitts. The teacher said he is around the corner and then asked if there was anything she could do to help the student.
“No thank you,” replied the student. “I need to see Coach Pitts.”
The student found Pitts and informed him that she had seen another student carrying a gun and gave the description of that student. Meanwhile, she pointed up the stairwell and said, “That’s him now.”
Pitts ushered her on to class and then escorted the student to the campus police office. Once inside he asked to search the student, at which time the student reached down suddenly and pulled a loaded 9mm semi-automatic from his pocket. An intense struggle ensued with other officers coming in and assisting so that they were eventually able to control and then disarm the student.
This type of incident occurs when police officers assigned to schools take the time to develop strong personal relationships with students. This student didn’t want to speak to an office staff member. Nor did she seek out the principal or a counselor. She knew this situation needed to be handled by police, and there was one she knew she could trust to take care of it and not reveal her identity.
There are, I’m sure, thousands of stories like this. So, next time you’re looking for a challenging position to transfer to in your department, think about throwing your name in the hat to be an SRO. It’s one of the most misunderstood assignments in the police department, as well as one of the most rewarding.