The Roles of Police Officers in Schools

Published date01 April 2018
AuthorDenise C. Gottfredson,Deanna N. Devlin
Date01 April 2018
Subject MatterArticles
YVJ680405 208..223 Article
Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice
2018, Vol. 16(2) 208-223
The Roles of Police Officers
ª The Author(s) 2016
Reprints and permission:
in Schools: Effects on the
DOI: 10.1177/1541204016680405
Recording and Reporting
of Crime
Deanna N. Devlin1 and Denise C. Gottfredson1
Deploying police officers, known as school resource officers (SROs), in schools is a popular school
crime prevention strategy. This study tested whether specific SRO roles, rather than the presence or
absence of SROs, influenced school crime and reporting of crimes to law enforcement differently.
Specifically, schools with officers serving a law enforcement only role as well as those with officers who
also teach and/or mentor (‘‘mixed SROs’’), were compared with schools without officers. The study
used a longitudinal sample (N ¼ 480) from the School Survey on Crime and Safety for the years 2004,
2006, and 2008. Results suggest that the level of crime recording and reporting generally increased
with SRO presence. Further, schools with law enforcement only SROs recorded more crimes
than non-SRO schools, and contrary to hypotheses, schools with mixed SROs reported more crimes
to law enforcement. Future research should expand on the typology of SROs used in this study.
school resource officers, school crime, policing, police roles
Concern over the safety of students, teachers, and administrators in U.S. schools continues to grow.
This is due in part to the widespread media coverage of mass school shootings, such as the events at
Columbine High School in 1999 and Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. Deploying police
officers, known as school resource officers (SROs), in schools has been a common response. SROs
mainly serve a law enforcement purpose but may also perform additional roles such as teacher or
mentor (Brown, 2006; Finn & McDevitt, 2005; Finn, Shively, McDevitt, Lassiter, & Rich, 2005;
James & McCallion, 2013; Thomas, Towvim, Rosiak, & Anderson, 2013).
Despite public perceptions that school crime is on the rise, serious, violent crime is in fact
relatively rare in U.S. schools (Morgan, Musu-Gillette, Robers, & Zhang, 2015). For instance, the
number of violent deaths of students, specifically homicides, decreased from 34 in 1997–1998 to 15
in 2011–2012 (Robers, Kemp, & Truman, 2013). Further, the percentage of students aged 12–18
1 Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA
Corresponding Author:
Deanna N. Devlin, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Maryland, 2220 LeFrak Hall, College Park,
MD 20740, USA.

Devlin and Gottfredson
who reported weapon carrying on school grounds declined from 12% in 1993 to 5% in 2013 (Robers
et al., 2013). Other forms of crime, such as theft and vandalism, are much more common in schools
(Morgan et al., 2015).
Schools implement a variety of strategies aimed at reducing crime and increasing safety (Gott-
fredson & Gottfredson, 2002; Morgan et al., 2015). These strategies include a wide range of
practices such as violence prevention curricula and counseling strategies but also include exclu-
sionary practices such as zero tolerance policies which remove high-risk youth from schools. Several
security practices are used in both private and public schools such as metal detectors and security
cameras (Morgan et al., 2015). One of the most popular security procedures is deploying SROs to
work in schools.
Funding from federal grants has facilitated a large increase in the number of SROs placed in
schools (Beger, 2002; Brown, 2006; Cook, Gottfredson, & Na, 2010; James & McCallion, 2013).
The percentage of principals reporting that SROs were stationed in their schools increased from 22%
during the 1996–1997 school year (Kaufman et al., 1999) to 43% during the 2009–2010 school year
(Robers et al., 2013).
Little is known about the consequences of placing SROs in schools: the practice might reduce
school violence but might also result in processing more youth through the juvenile or criminal
justice systems (Addington, 2009; Brown, 2006; Crews, Crews, & Burton, 2013; Jennings, Khey,
Maskaly, & Donner, 2011), which would likely have detrimental consequences for youth. Deploy-
ing SROs in schools might lead to more youth being placed in the justice systems if they arrest
juveniles for offenses that might otherwise be handled through traditional disciplinary channels in
schools such as detention or in school suspension. Existing research on the effects of SRO place-
ment has found both positive effects (e.g., improved attitudes toward police and reductions in
crime) and negative effects (e.g., increases in the recording and reporting of crimes and negative
views of SROs). A possible reason for the disparate findings across studies is that SRO roles have
not been examined. Officers who serve multiple roles might contribute more to school safety than
those who play a law enforcement only role. Specifically, these officers might offer services that
can reduce students’ propensities to engage in crime in addition to their traditional security
This study builds upon previous research by testing the extent to which the effect of placing SROs
in schools differs according to SRO roles. Previous research uses mostly cross-sectional data to
examine merely the presence of SROs in schools. The current study contributes to the literature by
employing a longitudinal design to test differences in the recording and reporting of crimes by SRO
role approach.
Literature Review
Prior Research on the Effectiveness of SROs
Research findings on the effectiveness of SROs have been inconsistent. Some studies indicate
that SROs have a significant impact on crime (Jennings et al., 2011; Johnson, 1999; Theriot,
2009, 2013), whereas others suggest that they do not reduce crime (Brady, Balmer, & Phenix,
2007; Jackson, 2002; Na & Gottfredson, 2011). Specifically, some studies find reductions in
crimes such as fighting, possession of weapons and drugs, and burglary (Johnson, 1999) and
generally positive perceptions of SROs (May, Fessel, & Means, 2004). However, other studies
find negative effects of SRO placement such as increased recording and reporting of crimes
similar to the crime types examined by Johnson (Brady et al., 2007; Na & Gottfredson, 2011). In
addition, some studies find that students often have negative views of SROs and feel that they
decrease school connectedness (Theriot, 2013).

Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice 16(2)
The inconsistencies of these findings may be due to the general low level of scientific rigor of
these studies (Petrosino, Guckenburg, & Fronius, 2012). Several existing studies used a post-test
only design (Johnson, 1999; May et al., 2004; Theriot, 2013). Others used a pre–post design but
lacked a non-SRO comparison group (Brady et al., 2007; Jennings et al., 2011). Others included a
non-SRO school comparison group, but major nonequivalencies between the SRO and comparison
schools were not adequately controlled (Jackson, 2002; Theriot, 2009).
Na and Gottfredson (2011) conducted one of the more rigorous evaluations of SROs to date.
Using a longitudinal sample including 480 schools, they examined whether the increased use of
SROs had an effect on school crime and found that schools that increased SROs reported more
crime. Although the results from this study are more conclusive than those from some of the
previous work on SROs, neither this study nor any of the others examined the effect of SRO roles
on crime outcomes. The following section describes the roles of SROs and possible mechanisms
through which the roles may affect crime outcomes.
The Roles of SROs
The National Association of SROs describes the roles of SROs as the ‘‘SRO triad,’’ which includes
the roles of law enforcer, counselor/mentor, and teacher (Beger, 2002; Brown, 2006; Jackson, 2002;
James & McCallion, 2013; Thomas et al., 2013). The absence of specific standards defining the roles
and responsibilities of SROs makes it difficult to fully describe what SROs do. However, schools can
be classified as having law enforcement only SRO roles or mixed SRO roles. In the former, SROs
serve only the law enforcement function. In the latter, they serve the law enforcement role in
addition to teaching and/or mentoring. The law enforcement role includes functions most commonly
associated with the policing job such as patrolling school grounds, conducting investigations, per-
forming sweeps for drugs and weapons, making arrests, and checking student IDs (Beger, 2002;
Johnson, 1999).
Officers with mixed roles (hereafter referred to as ‘‘mixed officers’’) may serve multiple roles.
They might provide classroom instruction on various topics such as law, investigations, conflict
resolution, and violence prevention (Thomas et al., 2013). The counseling function allows the
officers to serve as a resource for students. Students may seek out SROs for advice, and in turn,
SROs may identify at-risk students who may need intervention. SROs can serve as mentors through
individual counseling sessions, coaching sports teams, or simply interacting informally with stu-
dents (Travis III & Coon, 2005).
Only a few studies have focused on SRO roles (Finn et al., 2005; Finn & McDevitt, 2005; Travis
III & Coon, 2005). Finn, Shively, McDevitt, Lassiter, and Rich (2005) examined 19 sites and found
that the amount of time dedicated to each specific role depended on various...

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