Impact of SRO's debated as arrests, assaults rise in schools

JCPS
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- Tensions remain high after violence in one local school led to protests at the JCPS board meeting Tuesday night leading some to question whether uniformed officers have a place in schools.

In the late 1970’s Greg Gitschier, then a Louisville officer, was asked to do something unheard of at the time; drop by for routine visits of Doss High School.

“Most people see police officers as the guy driving by and pulling them over for tickets, negative experiences,” said Gitschier.  “At first, I got a lot of looks.”

Over time, those looks turned into friendships.

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“I still run into those people 20 years later who say, ‘I still remember you from Doss High School,’” said Gitschier.

Unfortunately, he says the dynamics in schools have changed over time.

“Some teachers you hear them talk, and they’re scared,” said Gitschier. “They’re scared that in the old days when you told a student to set down they sat down. Now, they get back talk, and a little lip, and they’re scared of walking out in the parking lot.”

According to the Kentucky Department of Education report card, the number of weapons found in Jefferson County Public Schools has increased each year since 2013-2014, while the number of assaults and arrests have nearly doubled in the same time.

“The whole idea of a school resource officer now is crime prevention and assist with security matters,” said Gitschier.  “Police officers, some of them, aren’t trained to deal with young people.”

That could be contributing to the problem according to UofL researcher Ben Fischer.

“We found sort of higher rates of problem behavior of several types when schools implemented reactive SRO’s,” said Fischer.

By the same token, the research also bares that good SRO’s can make a meaningful impact.

“When you have an SRO that’s getting involved in a school, building relationships with students, teachers, and the administration they become an important embedded part of the school community and that can have beneficial effects,” said Fischer.

Keeping all of this in mind, would our experts recommend an SRO in every school?

“One of the things that we’re finding about the effects of SRO’s, and my grad students always roll their eyes when I say this to them, is that it depends,” said Fischer.

“Nobody wants a cop around until you need one, and then who’s the first one to call 911,” said Gitschier.

The Jefferson County Teachers Association hasn't taken an official stance on SRO's presence in schools, but they plan on getting input from their teachers in the near future.

If you're interested in the crime stats from your child's school or district, click here