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What School Resource Officers Do, and What Are the Best Practices

Sarah Yost prepares her classroom for her new students at Wesport Middle School, in Louisville, Ky., on Friday, August 8, 2014. Photo by Eleanor Hasken
Eleanor Hasken
Sarah Yost prepares her classroom for her new students at Wesport Middle School, in Louisville, Ky., on Friday, August 8, 2014. Photo by Eleanor Hasken

This week, a Louisville Metro Police officer was arrested on charges of assaulting two Louisville middle school students.

The officer worked at the Olmsted Academy North Middle School as a school resource officer. SROs are daily presences in several JCPS schools. But how do they get there and what are they expected to do?

Last year, WFPL's Jacob Ryan spoke with the Lt. Alejandro Cabrera, the commander of the school resource officer unit for LMPD. Cabrera said:
The officers will work with students as educators and counselors, Cabrera said. Their main job is providing additional safety. The school resource officer is entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring no one is on school grounds that shouldn’t be. They are also responsible for protecting teachers, students and other personnel from violent acts, such as fights, Cabrera said. He added that the current LMPD school resource officers just last month took part in nearly 80 hours of training specifically tailored to working in a school environment.
For more, we reached out to Mo Canady, the executive director for the National Association of School Resource Officers, to discuss best practices and how school resource officers should be hired and used.

JCPS officials said principals have some degree of say about which school resource officer works in their schools, but that the ultimate decision is made by the law enforcement agency providing the SRO.

In the Olmsted North incident, the principal believed that the schools' SRO, 31-year-old Jonathan Hardin, would be removed. The district also said school officials alerted Louisville Metro Police of other incidents involving Hardin prior to the Jan. 27 final incident that lead to his arrest.

Canady said there are three things that should occur before assigning police officers as school resource officers.

  1. The law enforcement agency should be in a collaborative partnership and preferable in a written agreement and that guidelines are in place for how the program will work
  2. The officer should be carefully selected. “It is not for everybody.”
  3. The officer has to be properly trained

“If those three things don’t happen, there are bound to be problems with the program,” he said.

How much say should principals have with regards to which officers are in their schools?

“At the end of the day the officer belongs to the law enforcement organization and it is their responsibility to supervise and direct that officer. However, this is part of the collaborative process—that the school has buy-in to this program and that they can take part in the school district’s day to day activities."

Since the leading commander can’t be in schools, whose job is it to oversee that they’re doing their job appropriately while they’re in the schools?

“When I was involved with our school-based officers program, when I was a police officer--I was actually the lieutenant of this program--I had 12 officers that I supervised and my job was to, of course make sure they’re doing their job properly, and I would do that by periodically dropping in for a visit with them. We would go over protocols for what they’re doing, check their paperwork. So what it takes is someone who is dedicated to supervise the officers who are working in the school.”

School resource officers sometimes need to use force—are these types of allegations rare or common?

“The clear majority of the time when I research if this person has been trained, if there is a collaborative relationship going on, the answer winds up being no. When we see officers who are trained in that role and building relationships with students and staff and faculty, those are the officers who seem to be successful and we don’t hear of these lawsuits and other things occurring.”