School Resource Officers Can Prevent Tragedies, But Training Is Key

While there are a host of legitimate concerns regarding the potentially negative effects of hiring school resource officers in our nation’s schools, the benefits of having such staff members in place could be a tangible increase in lives saved. Back on March 20th of 2018, school resource officers Blaine Gaskill rushed straight towards a shooter who had opened fire in a common area of Great Mills High School in Maryland. The shooter had already wounded two students.

Gaskill’s act of instinct and heroism effectively kept the incident from becoming a tragedy akin to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida back in February 2018. Video footage of that shooting shows school deputy Scot Peterson inactive and standing outside of the school as a mass shooting was underway. 17 people, most of them students, were killed. While it is unfair to place blame on Peterson for the tragedy itself, it is indicative of a divide between those school resource officers who are well trained for such situations and those who fail to act.

The need for universal training standards

There are no national standards in place for how student resource officers are trained for their jobs. Incredibly, there are is litany of states who also do not have standards in place. With a lack of regulation and coherent oversight, there is a massive lack of consistency when it comes to how student resource officers are prepared for situations such as the two aforementioned shootings. 

Furthermore, a student resource officer is crucial not only for how they respond in such situations but for their adeptness and awareness when it comes to their prevention. The current SRO training which does exist throughout our nation’s schools tends to focus on legal issues and security. A more comprehensive and nuanced take on training is necessary for these officers to spot warning signs such as symptoms of trauma, along with learning de-escalation techniques, issues surrounding bullying and cyberbullying, key factors of child development, and the care needed to work with special needs students.

A lack of training, or proper training

While there is a concerted call by researchers and criminal justice experts for extended and specialized training for our nation’s school resource officers, the fact remains that very few of the 19,000 or so school resource officers in our schools are trained. This alone could explain the difference in the responses by the officers of the Maryland and Florida shootings. Universal specialized training could spell the difference between life and death, near-death, and actual tragedy.

Furthermore, additional training in the use of and access to specialized equipment used to gain forcible entry to locked buildings and classrooms would help our school resource officers to be action-oriented as the moment happens, rather than having to wait for help and it potentially being too late. But, the key remains in prevention. If we can build an adequate training system for our school resource officers which helps them identify students at risk and act accordingly, tragic shootings like the one in Parkland can potentially be avoided altogether.

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