Feeling Safe and Secure: Analysis of the Chico Police Department’s School Resource Program through the Teachers’ Experience

– Executive Summary

For many years, school violence has been a major concern for school administrators and local law enforcement.[1] As a result of school violence, teachers are leaving the profession at an alarming rate, leaving schools scrambling for educators.[2] To mitigate school violence, police departments throughout the United States have implemented school resource officer (SRO) programs.[3] The role of the SRO is multi-dimensional and, at times, complex. SROs serve as informal counselors, educators, public health advocates, mentors, and law enforcers. As law enforcers, SROs patrol campuses, respond to crimes in progress on and off campus, make arrests, issue citations, and develop emergency response plans.[4] The aim of the SRO concept is to reduce and prevent violence while bridging and developing relationships with students.[5]

School violence can occur anywhere, at any time. Communities in either a metropolitan or rural setting can be affected by violence, as illustrated in Parkland, Florida, and Uvalde, Texas. Following these horrific events, the role of SROs and their effectiveness have been called into question. Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Association claim SROs create a pipeline-to-prison scenario, targeting minority communities and at-risk youth.[6] Others claim that SROs are critical to school safety and prevent violence on campus.[7]

Campus safety is a holistic approach, with input from law enforcement, teachers, school district administrators, and school staff.[8] Often, teachers feel that they are not included in the school safety ecosystem and that their roles are limited.[9] However, teachers do play an integral role in school safety and can provide valuable insight on troubled youth or at-risk students. The purpose of this study was to explore perceptions of the Chico Police Department (CPD)’s SRO program through the lens of middle school and high school teachers in the Chico Unified School District (CUSD). This study examined the extent to which the CPD’s SRO program is preparing teachers working in a rural community to respond to school violence, as well as teachers’ views of school violence nationally and their assessment of the CPD program’s efficacy in reducing violence on campus. The research questions presented in this study were as follows:

  1. What are the perceptions of school violence among high school and middle school teachers working in a rural community?
  2. What are the teachers’ perceptions of the CPD’s SROs?
  3. What are teachers’ assessments of how effectively the SRO program prepares them to handle violence on campus?

Semi-structured interviews of 28 CUSD teachers made manifest several key categories and themes relating to the three research questions. First, teachers feel that after any major event, school violence and safety are a focal point. Also, the CPD’s SRO program has had an overall positive effect in preparing teachers for violence on campus. For example, teachers expressed that the presence of SROs on campus makes them feel safe because SROs have training and experience to confront violence on campus. Furthermore, teachers feel that the SROs’ ability to communicate with students, build relationships, and show strong connectedness to their schools fosters trust between students and the officers. On the other hand, some teachers expressed concern about the lack of visibility of the SROs on campus, the lack of communication with teachers, and the ambiguity surrounding SROs’ roles and responsibilities. These concerns have caused some teachers to question the effectiveness of SROs in preparing them for violence.

Understanding CUSD teachers’ perceptions of violence, the extent to which the SRO program has prepared teachers for violence on campus, and teachers’ assessments of the SRO program in creating a safe school environment is vital to program success and to the overall ecosystem of school safety. While the SRO is a key figure in school safety, ensuring the safety of students, teachers, and staff requires a holistic approach and multi-level engagement with the school community. In sum, while participants welcome the presence of SROs, teachers’ assessments of their preparedness for violence because of SROs vary considerably. They feel there is little they can do to prevent violence on campus, but they want an SRO present to intervene and take enforcement action.

Based on the perceptions expressed in the interviews, recommendations were developed to improve the CPD’s SRO program. The recommendations include improving communication between teachers and SROs, increasing the visibility of SROs on campus, training teachers on emergency response, gathering and sharing intelligence with educators, and developing a turnover unit.

[1] Chongmin Na and Denise C. Gottfredson, “Police Officers in Schools: Effects on School Crime and the Processing of Offending Behaviors,” Justice Quarterly 30, no. 4 (2013): 619–50, https://doi.org/10.‌1080/07418825.2011.615754.

[2] Leslie Brown, “The Role of Teachers in School Safety” (PhD diss., University of Southern Mississippi, 2008), ProQuest.

[3] Denise C. Gottfredson et al., “Effects of School Resource Officers on School Crime and Responses to School Crime,” Criminology & Public Policy 19, no. 3 (August 2020): 905–40, https://doi.org/10.1111/‌1745-9133.12512.

[4] Na and Gottfredson, “Police Officers in Schools.”

[5] Frank J. Mielke, Jeremy Phillips, and Beth Sanborn, Measuring the Strategic Fit of the School Resource Officer with Law Enforcement (Leaders), the Education System, the Community and Other Interested Parties: Section I—Survey Results (Hoover, AL: National Association of School Resource Officers, 2021).

[6] Paul J. Hirschfield, “Preparing for Prison?: The Criminalization of School Discipline in the USA,” Theoretical Criminology 12, no. 1 (February 2008): 79–101, https://doi.org/10.1177/1362480607085795.

[7] Mielke, Phillips, and Sanborn, Measuring the Strategic Fit of the School Resource Officer.

[8] John Mayfield, “Parents’ Perceptions on the Impact That SROs Have on School Safety” (PhD diss., Walden University, 2021), https://scholarworks.waldenu.edu/dissertations/10597.

[9] Christy Anthony, “A Quantitative Descriptive Study of Teachers’ Perceptions of School Safety” (PhD diss., Northcentral University, 2021).

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