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School Resource Officers, Discipline and the Feeling of Safety

In the past six months districts across the country, including Minneapolis, Portland, Denver and Seattle, have voted to remove School Resource Officers (SROs) from their schools and end contracts with local police departments. In a new working paper, Chris Curran, Samantha Viano, Aaron Kupchik, and Benjamin Fisher explore the impact of SROs in schools.

The researchers found that more frequent interactions with SROs did not increase students’ likelihood of being disciplined. They also found no evidence that differing feelings of trust and comfort toward SROs increased or decreased disciplinary consequences.

The study analyzed survey data from a total of about 40,000 students in two school districts, including urban and rural schools with socioeconomically and racially diverse student bodies. The researchers also conducted group interviews with participating students grade 4 and older.  

The findings could, in part, be due to students’ reports that SROs did not engage in formal discipline at their schools, the researchers suggest. Further, the study found interesting results regarding students' perceived sense of safety. Although students who reported frequent interactions with SROs reported a greater sense of safety, the researchers also found that the presence of SROs contributed to a heightened sense of fear overall relative to the actual risk of threats. The researchers reported no significant differences in results across race, ethnicity, or age. 

The authors urged policymakers to consider these results and limit the role of SROs in formal discipline measures.

Catherine Dragone

Photo courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action.