Wake, Durham districts discuss school resource officer role

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The National Association of School Resource Officers, known as NASRO, has a heart for safer schools.

Its goal, to "provide safe learning environments," is demonstrated by training thousands of law enforcement officers who swore to protect.

"We train probably about 4,000 to 5,000 officers every year," executive director Mo Canady said. "At the height of this, we trained over 10,000 in 2019."

It takes more than just law enforcement knowledge to be an SRO, according to NASRO's 68-page report.

"SROs contribute to the safe-schools team by ensuring a safe and secure campus, educating students about law-related topics, and mentoring students as counselors and role models," NASRO said. "This is the Triad Model of SRO responsibility: educator, informal counselor, and law enforcer."

The focus of the report is to "more accurately explain school resource officers and the role they play in supporting educational objectives," a trait that Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker said he sees in certain officers.

"I believe that school resource officers should be seasoned officers," Baker said. "But you know, due to staffing needs and all the different things that happen inside of an agency, that's not always not able to do that."

There are 75 SROs districtwide employed by 11 local law enforcement agencies, according to Wake County Public School System. At least 20 are deputies in all of the middle schools in Wake County.

Baker said he hopes to see more SROs at elementary schools, which Durham Sheriff Clarence Birkhead echoed.

"I would love to have an SRO in every school, including elementary schools," Birkhead said. "We're allocated 26 SROs, but due to the staffing shortage, we're currently down eight SROs and we're in all of the high schools, and some SROs for double duty."

Birkhead added that just because they're not assigned to elementary schools, it doesn't mean those campuses are neglected.

"We certainly patrol those schools and we are always ready to respond," Birkhead said. "And from time to time, we'll have SROs or just regular deputies go into those schools for a visit, participate in Field Day, go in and have conversations, read to our students."

Birkhead said school resource officers are there to support the teachers and be a resource to students.

"They're not just wearing a uniform," Birkhead said. "But to really develop relationships with them, get to know who they are so that when a crisis does occur, they know that they can trust that SRO."

Despite recruitment challenges and school safety concerns nationwide, NASRO said there is a higher turnout than expected.

"There are clearly still men and women that are very interested in this position and want to be well trained to do it the right way," Canady said.

Those who come to fill the need in Wake County aren't doing so out of obligation, according to Baker.

"There are a lot of folks that school resource officers that choose that assignment because they want to work with the children and keep things safe, that's the desire they have," Baker said. "That's one of the few times where this officer said OK, hey, here's a person that wants to be there, and that's critical."
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