HISTORIC TRIANGLE — The presence of school resource officers (SRO) have come under scrutiny over the last couple of years.
The 2020 death of George Floyd led to national protests against police brutality, as well as many debating the need for police officers in schools.
Multiple school systems in Virginia voted to eliminate the use of police officers in schools to address some of the issues.
Back in May of 2021, the City of Alexandria voted to remove its SROs from the public high schools and middle schools for the 2021-2022 school year, and instead, reallocate the money used for the program towards student mental health programs.
Just last week, however, the City of Alexandria Council voted to temporarily reinstate SROs to the schools after a number of incidents.
In June, the Arlington County School Board voted unanimously to eliminate the SRO program, reimagining it as a youth outreach program with an emphasis on building relationships between law enforcement and students. Montgomery County Public Schools (Maryland) also returned this year without the use of SROs.
The role of the “school resource officer” is defined in the Code of Virginia as, “a certified law enforcement officer hired by the local law enforcement agency to provide law enforcement and security services to Virginia public elementary and secondary schools.“
For York County School Division (YCSD) and Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools (WJCC), SROs from York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office (YPSO), James City County Police Department (JCCPD), and Williamsburg Police provide both security and educational resources for the schools.
SROs are sworn officers assigned to schools by their respective departments. All recruiting efforts are done through the police departments.
According to the SRO policy from YPSO, which recruits SROs for YCSD, the officers must meet a certain criteria to be selected.
This includes having at least two years of experience in performing field law enforcement duties, demonstrating knowledge of juvenile law and procedures, and having an interest in working with youth.
Before beginning their SRO duty assignments, the deputies are required to complete a basic law enforcement training program and the basic SRO training program.
JCCPD spokesperson Stephanie Williams, said that there is a Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety within the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services through which officers can take an SRO class.
There are additional training programs and resources made available to SROs through this center, including an annual Virginia Campus Safety and Violent Prevention Forum Workshop each year.
They must also complete a police mountain bike training certification course as they conduct bike patrols during summer hours, according to Williams.
“Our School Resource Officers must go through an internal application process and are selected based on work experience and performance, interpersonal communication skills, problem solving ability, time management and organizational skills, and public speaking ability,” Williams said.
Williams also noted that prospective candidates must be a rank of Senior Police Officer or higher.
According to Katherine Goff, spokesperson for YCSD, there are six SROs that are working with the division for the 2021-2022 school year, with four officers dedicated primarily to the four high schools and two officers rotating between the middle schools.
The SROs also provide support as needed to the elementary schools.
The officers conduct crime prevention programs, function as an additional educational resource, act as referral agents to help students receive community resources that would otherwise not be available to them, and provide problem-solving techniques to students.
They also occasionally assist with traffic control during arrival and dismissal times.
“The division has a memorandum of understanding with the Sheriff’s Office which is reviewed at least every two years,” Goff said. “We are extremely thankful for our strong, positive and ongoing relationship with the YPSO and work collaboratively with the agency and the county administrators’ office to evaluate needs.”
WJCC spokesperson Cheryl Hinshelwood said that the division has one SRO at each middle and high school who serves as a partner with school administration, students, parents and staff to support safety efforts at the schools.
They also provide support to elementary schools as needed.
Additionally, the SRO unit is responsible for several youth programs.
“Our division also has trained security guards (school personnel) at each high school to further support a culture of safety,” Hinshelwood said.
YPSO did not reply to a request for comment as of the time of this publication.