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Ed Talk: School Resource Officers

Ed Talk is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Tonight, the Arlington School Board is likely to vote to remove School Resource Officers (SROs) as a daily presence in schools.

SROs are Arlington County Police Department (ACPD) officers whose primary role is to promote safety and security in schools, including acting as a deterrent to crime by their presence, according to the 2018 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between ACPD and Arlington Public Schools (APS).

A decision to remove SROs from schools would be consistent with the recommendations of Superintendent Dr. Francisco Duran and the SRO Work Group, which was created in December 2020 to address community concerns about the relationship between ACPD and APS.

The Work Group report states that law enforcement functions can be provided to APS without SROs stationed at schools, with ACPD to be available when called upon to respond to situations such as active shooters and serious crimes. For the non-law enforcement functions that SROs provide — such as counseling, coaching, teaching and mentoring — the Work Group recommends that APS invest in additional staff and training to meet these needs.

Like localities across the country, Arlington is considering best practices for policing in our community. In making decisions from these important discussions, the School Board should focus on the facts and circumstances in Arlington — not what is happening in other school divisions.

One concern raised by community members about SROs is that a school to prison pipeline exists in Arlington. Data does not support this.

In Virginia, school administrators are required to report to law enforcement a limited number of criminal offenses alleged to have been committed by students on school property. In the 2018-19 school year, APS reported 106 cases to law enforcement, which was nine percent of all crimes documented to have been committed in Arlington schools that year, according to a January 23, 2020 presentation to the School Board.

Of those 106 cases, 16 were referred to the juvenile court with 8 cases resulting in diversion instead of prosecution and 8 cases prosecuted. Police took no action for 50% of the 106 cases. Thirty-five percent of the cases reported were documented, and no charges were brought.

Data presented at the January 2020 School Board meeting also show that arrests of Arlington youth are happening mostly outside of schools, with a total of 227 arrests in 2018, down 32% from 2017.

The Work Group acknowledges administrator support for SROs in schools and the “good work” that they do. But it recommends that this good work can and should be done by those who don’t carry “a badge and a gun.”

ACPD Deputy Chief Wayne Vincent, head of the new Community Engagement Division, told me that SROs want to be in the schools. He said:

The primary mission of the SRO Unit has always been to ensure the safety and security of students and staff. However, over our 40-plus year relationship with APS, the program has evolved as SROs have fostered lasting relationships with students and parents through youth programs/camps, teaching, mentoring and coaching.

He added that if the School Board adopts the Superintendent’s recommendation, ACPD “will continue to work with APS to support students, parents and administrators while reimagining our role in supporting our youth throughout the County.”

If the School Board votes to remove SROs from schools, the MOU between ACPD and APS will be revised. It will need to address how ACPD will respond to APS requests to maintain the safety and security of students, staff, and visitors at schools. In addition, APS should have its staff take on the non-law enforcement roles of SROs, as the Work Group recommends. But without funding for additional staff or training in its FY 2022 budget, this will be a challenge.

Abby Raphael served on the Arlington School Board from 2008-2015, including two terms as Chair. She also led the Washington Area Boards of Education for two years. Currently she co-chairs the Destination 2027 Steering Committee, is a member of the Board of the Arlington YMCA, and works with Project Peace, the Community Progress Network, and Second Chance

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