School resource officer programs safe in area districts

Smyrna Police/school resource officer Cpl. Brian Donner, right, was invited to lunch by a Sunnyside Elementary School student he had assisted earlier. Cpl. Donner was joined by Smyrna High SRO Det. Michael Carrigan. Submitted photo/Smyrna Police Department

DOVER — There’s no current indication among several area school districts that their school resource officer program will be discontinued as strife between police and communities continues nationwide.

The Red Clay School District in Wilmington reportedly discussed eliminating its SRO program in the wake of George Floyd’s death, while officials in Minneapolis, Denver and other cities moved to do the same.

Georgetown Detective Joey Melvin — a National Association of School Resource Officers regional director since April and trainer beginning in 2016 — said he’s heard of a couple school districts in northern New Castle County discussing possible removal of SROs.

“Current national discussions and issues always have the potential for local impacts,” said Detective Melvin, who oversees Delaware, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The Delaware State Police currently has 30 SROs statewide in eight districts, all initially trained through NASRO, spokeswoman Master Cpl. Melissa Jaffe said. Annual contracts for SROs are submitted for renewal annually and reviewed by each respective school district.

Among other duty descriptions, Cpl. Jaffe said, “SROs are proactive, building trust with the students and utilizing de-escalation techniques to resolve troubled situations. Also, a great deal of SROs volunteer their time coaching in their respective schools, mentoring and assisting with after-school activities.”

Also, she said, “They present a positive role model and mentor to the school community and present a positive image to enhance communication with students, staff and parents.

“When not filling a law enforcement or security role, time is spent connecting with students, parents and school staff to build a positive rapport between the school, community and police.”

While Milford School District Superintendent Kevin Dickerson said the district is aware of national conversations and will continue to monitor its partnership between the district and community, he also had positive reviews of its three resource officers.

“Our resource officers focus on maintaining school safety, prevention, de-escalation and support of our students, staff and families,” he said.

“These officers have been supportive of the well-being of our students and entire district community, as well as a vital part of our school safety and preparedness.”

According to Cape Henlopen School District spokeswoman Steph DeMalto, “At this point, there is no plan to dissolve our school resource officer program.” Two Delaware State Police troopers cover district schools.

As Lake Forest School District transitions into new leadership at the superintendent and high school levels, “we won’t have any discussions on our SRO programs until later this summer,” spokesman Travis Moorman said.

Four school climate officers overseeing security and assisting with climate and issues at Sussex Technical High School have “excellent relationships with our student body and provide a unique perspective on student safety and climate,” spokesman Dan Shortridge said.

“They are not police officers or school resource officers, but district employees who come from law enforcement or corrections backgrounds,” he said.

The Delaware State Police trooper-supplied SRO will continue in the Woodbridge district, Superintendent Heath Chasanov said. Also set is the school-funded security/SRO services provided by the town of Bridgeville at two schools.

“Our SROs have become part of the culture of our buildings and have been viewed in a positive manner in our community,” he said. “Our high school SRO was involved with all of our senior/graduation programs and has become a vital part of our school.”

There’s also no plans for change in the Smyrna district, which has three officers — two from the Smyrna Police Department, the other from Clayton — working at six schools.

“Our officers currently cultivate positive working relationships with our families and staff, but if any challenges emerge, we will certainly address them collaboratively,” Superintendent Patrik Williams said.

Mr. Williams said the officers are “proactive and network with families to help students deal with a variety of social and emotional issues. In fact, our officers aren’t in school to arrest students.

“They are there to make investments in our students so that they don’t have to arrest them. This philosophy helps us to forge strong relationships with our families.”

Indian River School District spokesman David Maull said neither the SRO program or school safety monitor program is currently under evaluation. Also, he said, “We do foresee officers remaining in schools. Any evaluation would have to be initiated by the board of education.”

Indian River’s total program cost is $409,719 under the contract for 2020-21.

Five SROs are used from DSP and the Georgetown, Millsboro and Selbyville municipal police departments. Officers staff Indian River and Sussex Central high schools, and Georgetown, Millsboro and Selbyville middle schools. Each SRO serves multiple schools, and the high school SROs are DSP troopers.

Requests for information to the Capital and Caesar Rodney school districts were unsuccessful.

The national view

Milford, Smyrna and Dover police are among departments with officers trained through NASRO.

The basic NASRO course is a 40-hour block of instruction designed for law enforcement officers and school safety professionals working in an educational environment and with school administrators. More information is available online at www.nasro.org.

In wake of recent widespread police-related unrest within communities, NASRO executive director Mo Canady issued a statement that included, in part:

“Although saying so should be unnecessary, NASRO abhors racism of all forms and believes that all people deserve the same fairness, respect, dignity, security and justice.

“NASRO puts that position into action by teaching school resource officers about implicit bias, how to recognize it in themselves and how to overcome it, in a module that has been part of our basic school resource officer course for many years.

“We are, of course, dismayed to learn that some school systems have recently discontinued or considered discontinuing their SRO programs. Our experience shows that using best practices NASRO pioneered, including selecting SROs carefully and providing them effective, specialized training, leads to community satisfaction with SRO programs.

“Such well-implemented programs can help communities bridge the gap between law enforcement and youth, building positive relationships that can last lifetimes, while helping to protect schools from a wide variety of threats. In addition, they can do so while reducing referrals of students to the juvenile justice system.”