Home / Education / Articles / Who are school resource officers, and what do they do for school safety?

School resource officers (SROs) are law enforcement officers tasked with ensuring safety and preventing crime in schools.

Like regular police officers, SROs can make arrests, respond to service calls, and document incidents within their jurisdiction.

Additionally, SROs serve as educators, emergency managers, and mentors.

A 2023 Justice Department report surveyed SROs in the 2019–2020 school year about actions they performed within 30 days prior to being surveyed.

How many SROs are there?

As of the 2019–2020 school year, there were 23,426 SROs in US schools. These officers aren’t employed by schools, but by local police departments (49.1% of SROs), sheriffs' offices (32.3%), and school district police departments (18.6%).

According to the Department of Justice, “SRO candidates should be sworn law enforcement officers or deputies with at least three years’ work experience and an interest in developing positive, community-oriented relationships with youth and the school community.”

About 69% of SROs reported that they had responded to an incident in a classroom within the past 30 days when surveyed during the 2019–2020 school year.

What do SROs do? 

SROs perform various duties that can be categorized into investigative, enforcement, patrol and response, security, mentoring, and teaching activities.

SROs have four major roles:

Law enforcement

SROs play a role in maintaining a secure environment within and around school premises. They strive to employ non-punitive approaches when interacting with students, reserving citations and arrests as a last resort, applicable only in narrowly defined circumstances.

Informal counselor

SROs serve as liaisons to community services that support the well-being of youth and their families.

Educator

SROs help educate students on crime prevention, safety measures (such as school shooter drills), drug awareness, conflict resolution strategies, and insights into the legal system and law enforcement operations.

Emergency manager

SROs help develop and implement emergency preparedness policies and school safety plans. They collaborate with first responders during emergencies and sit on school threat assessment teams.

Investigative activities

SROs conduct various investigative activities within schools. Of the surveyed SROs, 54.4% conducted searches, such as locker inspections or pat downs of students, 54.6% interviewed students regarding safety issues without a parent or guardian present[1], and 58.7% interviewed students in the presence of a parent or guardian.

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Enforcement activities

Enforcement activities among surveyed SROs include confiscating drugs (45.0% did this in the 30 days preceding the survey), confiscating weapons (23.1%), issuing criminal citations (37.0%), and making arrests (39.1%).

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Patrol and response activities

Nearly all surveyed SROs (97.8%) patrolled school facilities, 88.4% responded to calls for service on school campuses, and 68.5% responded to incidents in classrooms.

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Security activities

About 82.9% of surveyed SROs conducted video surveillance, 51.2% conducted security audits of school campuses, 47.2% monitored social media, 44.7% participated in crisis preparedness training, and 45.0% participated on a threat assessment team to, determine potential causes of future violence or disruption on campus.

Mentoring and teaching

Of all surveyed SROs, 85.4% advised school staff, students, or families on personal safety while on school grounds. Additionally, 46.3% participated in positive school discipline[2], 25.3% supervised or coordinated non-athletic extracurricular activities (such as student-run organizations), and 25.5% engaged in truancy intervention, tracking down students skipping school.

SROs are also involved in educational activities. About 48.7% of those surveyed administered special safety programs or provided classroom instruction, 49.4% engaged in conflict resolution courses, 26.6% gave in-service presentations to faculty or staff on school safety issues, and 10.7% gave school safety presentations to parent organizations.

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Where does this data come from?

This data comes from a 2023 Department of Justice report on school resource officers surveyed during the 2019–2020 school year. The report's findings are based on the 2019 Survey of Law Enforcement Personnel in Schools SRO survey conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

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[1]

In this context, 'interview' does not mean interrogation or detention, which are legal actions. Students have the choice to speak with SROs or not.

[2]

Includes PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports), such as using discipline to teach rather than punish, relationship-building, and implementing social-emotional programs.