The origin of the School Resource Officer position began in the 1950s when Flint, Michigan, assigned an officer to the schools. In the 1960s and 1970s, several other jurisdictions also began assigning officers to the schools.
In the 1980s, the progression of the position slowed somewhat, but police departments began using officers to provide an educational role to students. The most popular programs, which are still used are D.A.R.E. and G.R.E.A.T. In the mid-1990s, the more current model of SRO programs was implemented in many communities in response to public concern following several high profile violent incidents. The current program has progressed into many different areas, beyond basic school safety.
The National School Safety Center reported, over a recent 12 year period, the rate of serious violent crimes in our nation’s schools dropped by 54 percent and thefts and other crimes at schools dropped by 65 percent. During that same time period, school age children were 50 times more likely to become a victim away from school than at school. It would be hard to believe there isn’t a correlation between these statistics and the presence of officers in our schools.
The Portage Township Schools have two full-time SRO’s assigned to the district’s schools. One officer has a permanent office at the high school, while the other has offices at both middle schools. Our program has been designed to serve several important purposes including: keeping the schools safe; building interaction with the students in a setting that promotes self-esteem and trust; interacting with students, faculty, community, and parents to promote positive relations; and educating students about the law and the importance of individual responsibility, while reinforcing the idea that police officers are role models.
In order to achieve these goals, the SRO’s job often encompasses many roles, including law enforcement, teacher, and counselor. To fulfill the law enforcement role, SRO’s are tasked with enforcing the laws of the State of Indiana and investigating any criminal activity that occurs at our schools, including, but not limited to: thefts, assaults, bullying, harassment, drug possession, alcohol use, etc. Additionally, the SRO’s are involved in the overall safety of our students. The Portage Township Schools currently have safety measures in place for the safeguarding of our children, faculty, and staff. Further information regarding school safety can be found at the district’s website.
SROs also frequently play the role of teacher. They are used informally as a constant resource to students and staff to provide knowledge and advice regarding a multitude of questions and concerns about legal issues. In a more formal role, officers spend time in classrooms to assist with the daily lessons involving topics such as criminal law, substance abuse, personal health, etc.
Lastly, SROs often find themselves in the role of counselor. Officers often work jointly with school officials to help students deal with various problems. Issues range from substance abuse to depression to problems within their home. Officers and staff will often work to help students get in touch with programs that can help support them. Equally as frequent, officers serve as just someone for students to talk to about their concerns.
The success of our program depends on the confidence and respect earned from students, parents, and staff. This is based on the interaction, which takes place between everyone involved.
If you any question or concerns feel free to contact Officer Mike Candiano (PHS) at (219) 764-6028 or Officer Greg Coleman at Willowcreek Middle School at (219) 764-6355 or at Fegely Middle School at (219) 764-6901).
This column solely represents the writer's opinion.