, , , , , , , , , , , ,

credit: chelle cates photography

As regular readers have noticed by now, I’m using the Uvalde series–the SMM Uvalde Archive is here–largely to inform.  Many topics, such as school security, gun control, police procedure and more are involved, yet most people know little about them.  Today’s contribution is: 

School Resource Officers.  From what is currently known about Uvalde, or at least what we think we know from media accounts, Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, TX did have an assigned SRO.  However, he—or she—was not present when the attack occurred, and apparently rushed to the school at some point, apparently passing the killer who was supposedly still outside, but hiding from him, which would suggest he was driving a marked patrol vehicle, or one otherwise readily identifiable as a police vehicle.  Reportedly, that SRO had no role in stopping the shooter or doing anything else of any value that day.  We don’t know if any of this is accurate.  We don’t know if the SRO, if one was indeed assigned to the school, was there full-time during school hours, or as is common across America, was shared by a number of other schools, being present at each only a day or two per week.  Or, as is also common, we don’t know if this officer was only expected to stop in at various schools from time to time as their patrol duties allowed.

credit: Darcee Watson

SROs are virtually without exception patrol officers selected for their interest in working with kids.  There is no such thing as a law enforcement agency with too many certified officers, so the number of SROs any agency can afford is commonly small.  A full-time SRO is an officer who doesn’t do normal police duties.  As a result, many agencies enter into agreements with school districts to jointly finance a SRO’s salary and benefits.  However, if a community wants to put a single SRO, full-time into every school, that’s going to be a significant budget outlay above and beyond their normal budget for law enforcement and the school district, which means more taxes—a lot more.

Why would a chronically understaffed law enforcement agency—they all are–be willing to “lose” an officer?  Because they need as much public relations help as they can get.  Because they think long term, and building good relationships with kids can pay present and future dividends.  Also because they tend to assign SRO’s where, in terms of dealing with crime and gathering intelligence, they’re most useful, so while their agency loses an officer in the daily shift rotation, the SRO usually provides at least some benefits in intelligence and crime reduction. At the least, they handle calls to their assigned school(s) that would normally be handled by random patrolmen. To really understand the role of a SRO, think of the school to which they’re assigned as a small town with every attendant problem, but one drowning in juvenile hormones.  Then think of the SRO as that small town’s primary police force, counselor, psychologist, all of the roles police officers are expected to fulfill.

Why would schools want SROs?  Actually, many don’t for political reasons, but those that do tend to be civic minded, and also appreciate the value of kids developing good relations with the police.  Many schools lie about the kind and quantity of crime committed within their walls, and those schools don’t want SROs.  Schools led by honest principals with crime problems want that help, and those without serious crime problems want a SRO to prevent things from getting out of hand.  While those schools do tend to listen to a SRO’s security concerns and suggestions, they don’t want them primarily for that.  Like LE agencies, most school districts aren’t rolling in money, and shelling out for a SRO is an investment in the present and future.

So, LE agencies are understaffed and underfunded; they can’t afford many SROs.  Inevitably, they’ll assign those they can afford—full-time—to the schools with the most need, and which might produce the most crime reduction benefit to the agency, which are virtually always middle or high schools.  It’s the rare community that can afford a full-time SEO in every school.  Some try to do what they can by assigning a single SRO to three, or even more, elementary schools, rotating them in and out on a more or less daily basis.  More designate part-time SROs, who, when their patrol duties allow, drop in on a number of schools, teach the occasional class, such as DARE, and are at least familiar to the kids.  Call traffic during some weeks allows more dropping in than others.

credit: bakersfield.com

With the rise of the BLM and “defund the police” pathologies, many school districts used the opportunity not only to remove every SRO, but to more or less ban any and all police officers from their schools.  For the leftists who run substantial portions of American education, this was thought a great victory.  These are the people who think the mere presence of police officers magically despoils an otherwise pristine educational environment.  Becoming woke, they discover the mere presence of police officers also makes non-white students and teachers shudder in fear, and somehow makes them incapable of learning and even breathing.  You can imagine, gentle readers, what they think about the presence of guns.  This struthious, precious snowflake thinking is far from dead:  

North Carolina Black student group is evoking the Uvalde, Texas, elementary massacre to argue against the presence of school resource officers on campuses to keep students safe.

Leaders of the Wake County Black Student Coalition recently told The Associated Press that they believe ‘police don’t make us safer’ and officers on school campuses ‘do more harm than they do good,’ especially for students of color who the claim are disproportionately arrested or disciplined.

For schools determined to allow the inmates to run the asylum, and accordingly want to hide from the public knowledge of just how bad things are, these trends have been a godsend.  As one might imagine, anti-police/anti-SRO sentiment is far more prevalent in blue cities and states.

As regular readers know from Update 6 in this series—the SMM Uvalde archive is here—police officers are comprehensively trained with a wide variety of knowledge.  Ideally, no new officer is allowed on the street by themselves without a year of training, which is considered barely sufficient to allow them not to be too great a danger to themselves or anyone else.  They are required to have continual training—which is often quite bad—but no lessons are more important than those they learn on the job.  In order to wield law enforcement powers—essentially arrest powers—officers must be sworn, they must take an oath and be state certified.  They must meet all requirements for character, training and otherwise their state mandates.  Only sworn officers carry firearms.

Simply put, SROs are not security guards.  While they do what they can to keep an eye on things, and pay particular attention if they have intelligence about a potential problem, that’s not their primary function.  Schools don’t need sworn officers for security duties; most of the training a sworn officer has is superfluous for that function.

Another misapprehension people have is a single SRO can handle any school attack.  Let’s assume, for the sake of illustration, we have a single SRO—Officer Friendly–at Anytown Elementary School.  AES has 600 students on a single level campus of nine detached buildings connected by covered walkways (note the overhead image of Robb Elementary).  Off. Friendly has an office in the building that houses the offices of the principal and assistant principal.  Each classroom has an intercom system, but it’s old and doesn’t work reliably.  The school does mandate locked doors, but because the buildings are detached, and staff and kids are constantly coming and going, it’s really hard to keep everything locked up.  There is no video system useful for surveillance.

credit: goodnewsnetwork.org

Off. Friendly is shared by Joan Smith Elementary School on the other side of town, so he’s only on campus at each school two or three days a week. Actually, his schedule is more irregular than that, because while he has an office in each school, and he tries to keep a regular schedule, he’ll run to wherever he’s needed, and often, he has to leave school to help his fellow officers.  Off. Friendly also has to go to court from time to time, and because he works with kids, there are a variety of organizations and agencies he has to regularly visit in his dealings with kids. Because kids have hearings in court adults don’t, Off. Friendly spends quite a bit of time at those hearings too.  He also has to periodically go to training and meetings at his agency and others.  Because he works Monday-Friday during school hours, he also has to take time off for doctor appointments and the kinds of personal business that can’t be done evenings and weekends, and he sometimes takes vacation and personal days and is sometimes sick.

Understanding all of that, when an attacker breaks into building 7 of the AES campus—Off. Friendly’s office is in building 1—what are the odds he’s going to be on campus?  If he is, how long is it going to take him to find out what’s happening and run to building 7?  Will he have the keys he needs to get in?  Will a smart attacker simply enter building 1 and shoot Off. Friendly first, or will he call the school office asking to speak with Off. Friendly and learn he’s not there?

I’m sure, gentle readers, you’re getting the picture.  For an even more focused look, take this link to Article 8 in my yearly updated school attacks series.  I’ll be updating it beginning at the end of August.

Certainly, having a SRO, particularly one assigned to a single building, is far, far better than nothing, but even then, security is not their primary function, and a single SRO or single uniformed security guard is the first target of a brighter than average attacker.  As I’ve labored to note, school attacks remain rare, and even more rare is the attack when the police had any role in actively stopping an attacker.  There was a SRO at Columbine, and another at Parkland.  The cold, hard reality is when an attack occurs, seconds matter, and the police are always going to be at least five minutes—that’s a rapid response, by the way—away, and that’s after they get the radio or computer message of an attack.

One should never imagine every police officer is an expert shot.  Most are not gun guys and girls.  A great many civilians—that’s what the police call non-police—are far more proficient, even college educated teachers.  Take this link to discover this disquieting reality.  

One should never imagine a single SRO is adequate deterrence or protection.

What is?  SROs in a school district with a carefully planned policy of willing, armed teachers and staff.  It’s called defense in depth.  I’ll be explaining that in detail in an upcoming update of this series.