What is a School Resource Officer (SRO)?
Posted on 09/05/2018
Officer Woodruff of William Fleming High School

Below is a commentary that was published in The Roanoke Times.  It was written by Roanoke Police Chief Tim Jones.  It is titled "What is a SRO?"

On Aug. 21, the children of Roanoke returned to school where they were greeted by a variety of dedicated personnel. Teachers, administrators, support personnel and the school resource officer, commonly referred to as the “SRO” were all present. We are fortunate to have a well-established partnership between Roanoke City Schools and the Roanoke Police Department that extends over the last three decades. I have seen this collaborative effort expand and build relationships that are both professional and personal with school members and students. Over these many years some of the student contacts made by those early SRO’s influenced children to become police officers themselves or changed the course of their lives by the relationships established. And so we move forward acknowledging that our best resources, our children, benefit when we as a community collaboratively play active parts in the lives of our children.

Recent questions and concerns over the role of a school resource officer have come up. I want to provide a general overview and establish the priority of work for the SROs on a daily basis. In Roanoke, for each of the five middle schools there is one SRO assigned. The high school assignments provide for two SROs at each facility, bringing the total number of officers to nine positions. Their salaries are reimbursed contractually between Roanoke City Schools and the City of Roanoke. The assignment to a School Resource Officer position comes after a screening of interested candidates who express a desire to work in the school environment. These officers are then subjected to a rigorous review process before final selections are made. There is also a one-week SRO training class as established by the State of Virginia through the Department of Criminal Justice Services. School Resource Officers perform at their best when they have a broad and diverse experience base. They must possess a comprehensive knowledge of law enforcement principles, school system familiarity supported by their SRO training and the desire to engage young people in a positive atmosphere. The average tenure of an SRO in Roanoke is 12 years.

Beyond the law enforcement role of keeping our children safe, a School Resource Officer serves as an informal mentor, counselor and educator of the laws of Virginia. With these responsibilities as the primary focus, an SRO spends much of their day engaged in formal or informal conversation with students, teachers, staff and administration. Archie Freeman III, principal of William Fleming High School, underscores the value of the School Resource Officer: “School Resource Officers are important for our safety and security. As we know this is our number one priority for the Roanoke City Schools. Students are not able to learn if the environment is not safe and secure. Our SROs build positive relationships with students and staff. SROs work in collaboration with Administration to ensure all aspects of the school day is conducive to learning. It takes thinking outside the box, being engaged with the students, and being visible at all times. Our SRO attends extracurricular activities and sporting events. This continues to promote the interest they have in the students.”

The SRO does not serve as a disciplinarian and is called upon to assist in their law enforcement capacity only when circumstances dictate immediate intervention that will prevent a physical assault or injury to others. Incidents during the school year that can lead to criminal charges being filed against students (or, on occasions, parents) are rare, given a student population of approximately 13,500 children, with only the most egregious situations proceeding to full criminal prosecution. The SRO and school administration work together to seek the most appropriate intervention opportunities for incidents involving students. As we enter the 2018/2019 school year, arrests within the system continue to decline over the last five school years.

This trend would not be possible without the joint efforts of Roanoke City Schools and the police department working collaboratively to leverage every possible asset toward the success of all children. Proactive measures to enhance the physical safety of our school facilities and the review of crisis intervention protocol have been underway prior to the start of the school year. Moving forward into this school year Roanoke City Schools has added Chris Perkins as the Director of School Security and the Roanoke Sheriff’s Office’s has extended a commitment to assign additional personnel to the elementary schools in the City of Roanoke. These changes did not occur by happenstance, but rather out of concern for and commitment to the safety of our children. Recognizing the need, the City of Roanoke and Roanoke Public Schools have “stepped up” to extend the blanket of safety. The SRO working in concert with school personnel provides our community the conduit to better stay abreast of the changing social circumstances in our society and in the lives of our children. To this end the SRO is just one of many advocates for the children, but one whose primary focus is upon the overall safety and success of our school system.

40 Douglass Avenue NW, Roanoke, VA24012 Phone 540-853-2502