AURORA, Colo. — Thousands of school resource officers from around the country are in Aurora this week for the National Association of School Resource Officers’ annual conference.
The conference comes amid calls for school resource officers (SRO) to be removed from schools following police reform efforts and the botched police response to the shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Tex.
The president of the organization, DJ Schoeff, spoke with 9NEWS reporter Steve Staeger.
SS: In the wake of what we’ve seen, the dialogue about police in the last few years, how much as your job changed?
Schoeff: “A lot of the profession in law enforcement in the general, but more specifically as school resource officers is educating on the truth behind the job. There’s a lot of misunderstanding of what we do. Often times people think our mission is to go in and arrest students, that our goal is to go in and have the highest number of arrests. In reality, our goal is to not arrest. We don’t want to be arresting kids. We know that there’s trauma that is involved in arresting our kids. That is a very last resort for us. So, a lot of that is just educating the public on what it is that we do and our triad function which is we spend time mentoring students, speaking in classes and the law enforcement side as necessary. Most of that is behind the scenes though. Working through the emergency processes, drills and practices that go on inside the schools is the law enforcement side that we do the most of. So the vast majority of it is helping people understand what our real passion -- what our real job is about.”
SS: There’s been a tremendous push in the last few years to get SROs out of schools by a lot of people who say that relationship may not be the relationship that you’re talking about. How do you respond to that?
Schoeff: “We think its very important that we very carefully select who we put in a position as a school resource officer. Not every police officer fits the mold of a school resource officer. So, we encourage and we have recommended practices on how we select those individuals. What officer fits that mold to be a bridge builder to be a relationship builder with our students? And then we want to make sure we specifically train them in the role of a school resource officer -- working with an adolescent brain, working with special education, diversity, de-escalation. All sorts of things that are specific to the role of school resource officer. Once we carefully select and specifically train, we believe passionately, and we see it across the country that those great relationships are established.”
“Some of the stories we hear about unfortunately, oftentimes what we hear is they’re not specifically trained or they’re not carefully selected. So, it’s a dynamic that’s very important to us. We have to carefully select our officers. We have to specifically train them.”
SS: In the fallout from Uvalde and the situation there, what have you as an organization learned from that and what do you train on?
Schoeff: “We continually look at those and there’s a lot of information that will still come that will be factual information for us to review. Our job is not to go on the attack of what occurred, so to speak. It’s really, the goal is for us to learn from those situations. How do we do our jobs better? How do we improve our practices? How do we take the information that we’ve learned there and put them into place in training to ensure our members and our attendees and our courses and our training at the conference go back and implement them back in our school districts?”
The keynote speaker that opened the conference was Lt. Brian Murphy, the first responding officer to a shooting at a Sikh temple near Milwaukee in 2012. Murphy, who was shot 15 times during the response and survived, walked officers through the situation, with guidance on using force.
SS: I couldn’t help but notice your keynote speaker talking a lot about use of force. How does that play into this? If anything, public pressure has been use less force and more de-escalation.
Schoeff: “You’re hearing a small context of that, right. You’re hearing a small context of the training. If you look at the training as a whole this week, there’s a significant variety of what’s going on. The role of the school resource officer is arguably the most versatile police officer you can have in your department. Where we may be working with mental health in one moment, maybe special needs, maybe a break-up between two individuals in our schools. The next day, the next moment, we might be responding to a crisis incident in our situation. So the value of having that versatility is important. There is an important aspect of law enforcement that we have to have a bit of a warrior mindset, if you will, to be able to respond to those acts of violence that might be occurring, to protect the kids that we so passionately love and care for in our school, yet also being able to have the mentor role and sitting down and very peacefully and calmly having a conversation with our students.”
SS: What are some of the trends in training at this conference this week that might be new to school resource officers?
Schoeff: “Quite honestly, educating others. That is so important for people to understand what our true role is. When a school resource officer is carefully selected, specifically trained, our focus is not to arrest kids. Our focus is to bridge the gap, to build strong relationships with our kids and to help them be successful. In some cases, that is an alternative to arrest -- some cases where there’s no option for that, only as a last resort would we be in the arrest portion of that. The reality is we want to establish an understanding in all of our membership to train them well to put them into the school setting to build those relationships, and to help others in our communities understand what our real role is.”
SS: Recruitment. Is that a difficult task right now? Is it hard to find people to do this job?
Schoeff: “Generally speaking, in law enforcement, it’s a little challenging right now. But I will tell you that what we often find right now is that people who are coming into the law enforcement profession are coming in and during interviews they’re saying, 'You know, the reason I came into law enforcement is because I had a great relationship with my school resource officer. And now I want to give back just like my school resource officer did for my school.'”
SUGGESTED VIDEOS: Full Episodes of Next with Kyle Clark