LOUISVILLE, Ky. — School resource officers (SROs) have worked alongside students and staff for years. These officers strive to form relationships with children and teens, hoping to put a stop to problems before they escalate.
Over the last few years - especially as the topic of police reform gains more attention - people have weighed in on the pros and cons of having police officers in schools.
"I think school districts all across America right now are wrestling with school resource officers," said Dr. Marty Pollio, the superintendent for Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) in Louisville.
JCPS had some SROs for several years, contracted through different police agencies across the city. However, Pollio said fewer than 20% of schools in the district had officers.
"There was no real clear reasoning as to where they were put. It was based upon the individual police agency... so there wasn't a systemic way of looking at it," he said.
The district, like many others, chose to cut ties with local police departments in 2019.
Then, Kentucky legislators passed a pair of laws, setting new rules for the presence of officers inside schools. According to the legislation, each school must have at least one armed officer on campus - but neither law provided any funding for increasing security.
Meanwhile, JCPS already had a plan to create its own in-house security force.
According to the plan introduced in early 2020, officers would carry a handgun but could only use their weapon if they believed they were defending human life. They’d also carry a taser, handcuffs and a baton, and stay away from typical police uniforms.
Each year, the security officers would undergo 100 hours of training on topics including diversity awareness, de-escalation tactics, and youth mental health.
"Our goal is to educate students, have a sense of belonging and not harm students. So we're working to really find a balance on that," Pollio said.
But there’s no clear timeline on when this plan will get the green light. Pollio said the district wants to get community feedback before implementing the plan and the coronavirus pandemic has delayed those opportunities.
As schools return to full capacity this fall, the topic of SROs is likely to come up again.