The United States Education and Justice Departments recently released companion Dear Colleague Letters providing guidance on implementing School Resource Officers (“SROs”). In those letters, the Departments explained how school districts should use memoranda of understanding (“MOUs”) with local law enforcement agencies in order to clarify their expectations for SROs. Among other things, the MOUs should require training for officers working in schools and should explicitly state that their proper role is not to administer day-to-day discipline. This guidance comes in response to media scrutiny on situations involving SROs, like the infamous case last year in which a video of a sheriff’s deputy throwing a high school student out of her chair attracted nationwide attention.

Included with the DCLs were links to the Safe School-based Enforcement through Collaboration, Understanding, and Respect (“SECURe”) Local Implementation Rubrics. The SECURe Rubrics include a “Checklist to Start” and a “Checklist to Improve.” As the name suggests, school districts can use the Checklist to Start for implementing new school-police partnerships; or to assess their existing programs. Similarly, the Checklist to Improve is for improving existing partnerships for responsible and innovative school safety management practices that include the presence of SROs in schools.

The SECURe Rubrics also include the following five suggested action steps that may be used to ensure that SROs are incorporated responsibly into school learning environments:

  1. Create sustainable partnerships and formalize MOUs among school districts, local law enforcement agencies, juvenile justice entities, and civil rights and community stakeholders;
  2. Ensure that MOUs meet constitutional and statutory civil rights requirements;
  3. Recruit and hire effective SROs and school personnel;
  4. Keep your SROs and school personnel well trained; and
  5. Continually evaluate SROs and school personnel, and recognize good performance.

While the letters from the Departments recognize that SRO programs have great potential for helping school districts to provide a positive and safe learning environment and building long lasting, personal and trusting relationships between students and police officers, they can have equal potential for negative impacts on students through unnecessary arrests and improper involvement in school discipline. The Departments hope to make SRO programs more effective. For more information on this topic, visit the Department of Education’s web page dedicated to school climate and discipline, and the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) web page here.