Studies Show Harm Caused by School Resource Officers

By Desiree Lindsay, Treehouse Marketing & Communications Intern

The Black Lives Matter movement has been reignited with full force and our nation is screaming for systemic reform. A critical aspect of the movement is removing School Resource Officers (SROs) from schools. The presence of these officers has led to the criminalization of youth and reduced the availability of other much needed support services.

For activists, educators and social workers, this issue has long been at the forefront of discussions and extensive research has been published about how SROs form the foundation of the school-to-prison pipeline. For some of us, these concepts may be new and are worth examining.

Concerning Research

With the rise in high-profile school shootings during the past 20 years, the national response has been to increase police involvement in schools under the assumption that SROs improve the safety of the students and community. However, there is no evidence to support this. Research consistently shows SROs do not reduce the occurrence of incidents involving assault, homicide, weapons, bomb threats and the possession/use of alcohol and drugs. Even more alarming is that research shows they lead to higher dropout rates, suspension and expulsion rates, referrals to the criminal justice system and arrests. There’s even research showing that in schools with more SROs than counselors, college enrollment rates fall 4%.

The movement for racial equity calls for the removal of police from schools because the consequences of policing schools unequivocally hurt and hinder our Black and Brown communities. Additionally, it is our Black and Brown youth who are more likely to experience foster care. In Washington state, Native youth are three times more likely and Black youth are twice as likely to be placed in foster care than their white peers. The lived experiences of our youth of color dealing with foster care are only hardened by the fact that once they arrive at school, their chances of receiving an equal education statistically dwindles with the involvement of SROs.

In Washington, for schools that have a consistent presence of police officers, the result is a loss of 23 days of instruction per 100 students across all races. Compare that, however, to a 64-day loss of instruction per 100 Black students and a 47-day loss of instruction per 100 Native students and you can see why the demand to remove police officers from educational settings is at an all-time high.

Inadequate Social Services and Support

Nationwide, youth are dealing with an unprecedented amount of mental health issues. The suicide rate jumped 70% from 2006-2016 for children ages 10-17. That statistic is even more disheartening because we know most of the adolescents we work with suffer from complex trauma and PTSD at a much higher rate than the general public. Schools are often youth’s first line of support for mental and physical health and this is especially true for low-income areas, where access to these resources could be scarce. This is a huge issue when the recommended student-to-counselor ratio is 250:1 and 90% of our schools nationwide don’t meet this. Yet, most states report having two or three times more SROs than counselors.

SROs often enter their position with a fraction of the experience, education or training that school counselors have. Sometimes, they don’t have the training as an active law enforcement officer. A recent study revealed that 25% of SROs haven’t worked with children before working at a school and almost none have any training in trauma-informed methods of de-escalation and crisis prevention. In Washington, schools will pay SROs up to $125,000 per year when employing a counselor costs about half of that.

The question is, why are we so apprehensive to invest in more school counselors over police? Especially when the consequences of SROs outweigh the benefits and the need for social and health services are soaring with no evidence of any downfalls to investing in counselors and social workers.

 Sign up for our Advocacy Action Center to be a voice for youth experiencing foster care. The Advocacy Action Center makes it easy for you to contact your elected officials about issues like this.


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About the Author

Desiree Lindsay is the Marketing and Communications Intern at Treehouse, where she elevates the voices and experiences of the youth we serve.

Comment (1)

Janis Avery

August 27, 2020

I appreciate this research based piece. The literature you reviewed may not differentiate between police department employees and school security officers, but I expect they have similar impact on student achievement and belonging. Why is it so hard to justify increasing school counselors? Are there jurisdictions that have successfully made the case?


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