Officials or Advisors? Opinions differ on improving school safety

COLONIAL HEIGHTS, Va. – School Resource Officer (SRO) Eric Allen jokes with Colonial Heights students to build relationships. He hopes that one day these connections will make it easy for these students to come to him when something is wrong at school.

“You want to have the kind of personality that makes the kids feel comfortable coming up to you and giving you that kind of information,” Allen said.

As part of his day, Allen keeps school doors secure and monitors cameras inside and outside the school.

“Constantly scanning just to see something unusual when I recognize everyone,” Allen said.

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Public Schools in Colonial Heights

Colonial Heights has one of the smallest school systems in the area, but it is a priority to use SROs in every school. SROs are armed members of law enforcement deployed to work in schools.

“I think it’s an important part of our leadership across the division,” said Colonial Heights Superintendent Dr. William Sroufe.

Sroufe said he believes every school in Virginia should have a school resource officer. But he also acknowledged that just because a school has an SRO doesn’t mean a school shooting can be avoided.

“It’s certainly a deterrent, but unfortunately I don’t think any single factor would prevent a school shooting,” Sroufe said. “Security is multi-layered. In schools there are several layers: cameras, locks, corridors. SROs are certainly one of them.”

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According to the most recent Virginia School Safety Audit, 64 percent of Virginia schools have at least part-time SROs.

While the vast majority of Virginia middle and high schools have them, only 50 percent of elementary schools do.

dr Sroufe thinks that needs to change.

“I think some of that funding should come [lawmakers in] Richmond, but I think you should be in every school,” Sroufe said.

But Rachael Deane of the Education Law Center said school departments and the state should instead focus on hiring more mental health professionals in schools.

“School Resource Officers are first and foremost police officers, they’re not school counselors, they’re not mental health professionals,” Deane said. “Why not invest more in people trained to do counseling?”

She said evidence shows that reliance on school law enforcement approaches is not really effective in keeping schools safe. Dean quotes a 2021 study from the University of Albany who found no evidence that SROs prevent school shootings.

“However, there is ample evidence that promoting a positive school culture is very effective in keeping schools safe,” Deane said.

Hanover County schools have MPs assigned full-time to each middle and high school, and all elementary schools have DARE officers assigned to 2-3 schools.

All Henrico County middle and high schools have on-site SROs. These SROs are also contracted to serve nearby elementary schools when needed.

Citing security reasons, the Chesterfield Police Department declined to say how many schools have SROs. However, Chesterfield Public Schools said they were working with police to assign SROs to each secondary school and child safety officers to each elementary school.

Richmond Public Schools works with 12 SROs across the division. Seventeen Richmond schools have Care and Safety Associates who are non-police and unarmed but are trained and certified as school safety officers.

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email [email protected] to submit a tip.

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