A recently received grant of approximately $620 thousand dollars from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) will fund innovative work examining the role of law enforcement in schools by an interdisciplinary team of researchers from UMBC and the University of Louisville. The study examines the role of sworn law enforcement, also known as school resource officers (SROs), in two school districts in the South with a particular focus on their role in the elementary school setting. The work is funded as part of the NIJ’s Comprehensive School Safety Initiative.
“Law enforcement have become an increasingly common presence in school settings, particularly after high profile events like the tragedy at Sandy Hook”, notes principal investigator Chris Curran. “Our work seeks to understand the role of these officers in promoting safety, managing student behavior, and facilitating relationships with students. The support of the National Institute of Justice allows for an unprecedented look at the role and impacts of SROs in previously understudied settings.”
In addition to the principal investigator, Chris Curran, the project is also led by co-principal investigator Benjamin W. Fisher at the University of Louisville and project coordinator Samantha Viano of Vanderbilt University. The study will be ongoing for a two year period and will involve extensive data collection through interviews, focus groups, large-scale surveys, and examination of administrative data. The findings of the study will be useful for informing partnerships between school districts and law enforcement agencies as well as policy related to the use of school resource officers.To date there has been little research on the reasons why law enforcement personnel become involved with schools, what they do in schools, and the impacts they may have on schools. This research project will investigate school resource officers (SROs) within elementary schools within an affluent, high performing school district. This projected is guided by four research questions: 1) why and through what process were SROs implemented? 2) What roles and activities do SROs engage in within schools? 3) What impacts do SROs have on schools and students? And 4) how do the roles and impacts of SROs differ across school contexts? Data will come from interviews with the districts’ SROs, and a sample of teachers, school leaders, students and parents. Researchers will conduct full day observations of each of the SROs and have the SROs complete time logs that document their activities over a two week time period. Additionally, researchers will analyze official policy documents such as the memorandum of understanding between the law enforcement agency and the school district. Qualitative analyses will be conducted on all data collected, and results will be disseminated in the form of academic journals, conference presentations, interactive websites, and policy briefs.