Recently, the number of school police, known as School Resource Officers (SROs), has skyrocketed. An estimated 14,000 to 20,000 SROs now work in schools, and the number is growing. Indeed, millions of students attend schools that have SROs but no counselors, nurses, school psychologists, or social workers.
Empirical analysis of school police programs has been strikingly limited given the significant infusion of federal and state funding funneled into them. Proponents argue that SROs promote school safety, respond quickly to emergencies, and serve as mentors, role models, and law-related educators for students. Opponents argue that SROs damage school climate, criminalize relatively trivial student behavior, and fuel the “school-to-prison pipeline.” For every heart-warming story about an SRO being hailed as a mentor or hero for thwarting a harm at a school, there are alarming accounts of SROs using excessive force—putting students in chokeholds or slamming them to the floor—or inappropriately arresting children for non-criminal disciplinary incidents better handled by a principal. The most common categories of school-based arrest are “disorderly conduct,” which might be a temper tantrum, talking in class, or cursing, and “simple assault,” which could be a tussle between students or something far less serious. As one scholar commented, some “children develop arrest records for acting like children.”