School Resource Officer Study Report
May 25, 2022
The Edmonton Catholic Schools’ Board of Trustees received the report on the comprehensive, 18-month study of its School Resource Officer Program. In the fall of 2020, our Division engaged three of Canada’s leading criminologists, Dr. Sandra Bucerius, Dr. Kanika Samuels, and Dr. Scot Wortley, to identify the strengths and areas for improvement of the SRO program within ECSD by exploring the experience of students, parents, staff, and officers through a mixed-methods approach.
More than 5,500 students, 736 parents, and 617 staff from schools where SROs were present offered their opinions on and experiences of the SRO program through an online survey. As well, focus groups with students and parents from diverse backgrounds and staff were conducted, as were interviews with school administrators, Division leaders, and Edmonton Police Service SROs and leaders.
The vast majority of teachers, parents and students who participated in this study, regardless of their racial background, have a good opinion of the SRO program and want it retained. 80.2% of students, 84.3% of parents, and 93.5% of staff support continuing the program. Only 1.6% of students, 2.1% of parents, and 3.1% of staff felt the program should end.
“Edmonton Catholic Schools has a great belief in the value of the SRO program and we are grateful for our positive relationship with Edmonton Police,” said Chief Superintendent Robert Martin. “It was important for us to take an objective look at the program to see what its strengths are and to develop a clear path forward as we aim to deliver the best possible service to our school communities.”
The study identified several strengths and clear areas for growth in the delivery of services of the SRO program. Edmonton Catholic Schools and Edmonton Police Service will now take those recommendations and collaborate on improving the SRO program.
- Relationship Building: Students, staff, parents, and SROs all spoke about the value of the relationships that SROs were able to build with the members of the communities that they serve. Benefits include allowing students to potentially open up about negative experiences at school, at home, or in their social surroundings and seek help through the SRO. Parents believed that building rapport with SROs was beneficial for their children and they specifically commented on their children’s opportunities to have critical discussions about the state of policing with the SROs. They emphasized that every citizen will encounter police in the community eventually, so they viewed the SRO program as a way to build bridges between children and police. Parents who had children that had frequent interactions with the SRO because of their needs appreciated that the SRO knew the student and their situation well and commended the SROs on trying to find solutions “outside of the box” to improve their situation.
- Resource: Students agreed that having the SRO in schools offered additional resources to them. They mostly commented on SROs being an additional adult they could address when having issues, someone they could talk to when having legal questions, or being worried about friends who might be in trouble, or simply someone to connect with. They also emphasized that SROs enriched the school community by coaching teams and running clubs. Parents stressed that SROs offered guidance that parents could not easily otherwise tap into.
- Education: Staff stressed the importance of the SROs contributions to student education and being able to educate students on legal issues, topics such as vaping, or other matters relevant to the age group. Parents suggested that SROs should take on more of a teaching role and rotate through all classrooms, having conversations with students about critical topics, such as vaping, online activities, bullying, assault etc. Parents also wanted to see more opportunities for SROs to interact informally with students and ask the police officer questions about policing.
- De-escalation and Diversion Efforts: Staff participants in focus groups shared detailed examples of how SROs de-escalated situations because they had a pre-established relationship with students and families. This allowed them to create solutions that were tailored to the needs of a particular student or family. They stressed that “regular police officers” would not have the time to do the same. Given their knowledge of the criminal justice system, SROs reported being able to come up with alternative diversion measures to handle disciplinary situations, stressing the implications of having a student become trapped in the criminal justice system.
- Safety: With respect to safety threats, students identified it as positive to have a professional at the school who is trained to deal with issues as they arise. Students, particularly newcomers, expressed that they felt safer with the SRO at school. Parents believed that having a police presence in school will prevent some students from engaging in crime and will also prevent outsiders from entering the school premises.
Areas for Growth
- Communication about the SRO program and officer activities: It is clear to both ECSD and EPS that there is a need to develop a comprehensive communication plan about the program itself and that schools need to profile their SROs and their activities within the school on an ongoing basis. This includes sharing information about the intention and desired outcomes of the SRO program and how to reach the SRO when needed.
- Accountability and Oversight: Edmonton Catholic Schools will develop a more sophisticated data collection strategy that will document major SRO activities including arrest or charge incidents, diversion efforts, innovative disciplinary strategies, student mentoring, parental counselling, lessons delivered in class, and involvement in extracurricular activities. This data will better illustrate the breadth of activities the SROs are involved with. We will explore collecting data on the demographic characteristics of students who become formally involved in SRO-related incidents. This will help us to ensure that the primary activities of SROs are as educational resources as opposed to law enforcement. The study showed that negative perceptions and experiences with SROs exist. ECSD takes all those interactions seriously. Our goal is to partner with EPS to improve service delivery and create a better system of tracking and reporting to decrease the likelihood of these negative experiences occurring.
- Staffing: We need to work with EPS to develop a more formalized process for staffing of SRO positions. We heard from our stakeholders that we need to pay greater attention to fit and turnover rate, and that there is training both organizations can provide to increase SRO efficacy. For example, our Division has ongoing, trauma-informed training and EDIAR Professional Development that our SROs could participate in.
- Presence: Our stakeholders indicated to us that SROs need to be present to students in diverse situations. This ranges from classroom education to field trips to extra-curricular mentorship and coaching.
Multi-Disciplinary Teams in ECSD Schools
Our schools benefit from multi-disciplinary teams of which our SROs play an important part. SROs work in collaboration with a variety of professional team members that exist within our schools including Emotional Behavior Specialists, Family School Liaison Workers (or social workers), Psychologists/Clinical Social Workers, Mental Health Therapists, and Therapeutic Assistants (Behavior Therapy). Edmonton Catholic Schools currently has 13 SROs serving junior and senior high school students in 17 schools.
“If there is one thing the study has shown us, it’s that we need to have an ongoing understanding of the big picture of SROs in our schools. They are not called school police, they are called School Resource Officers. We need to ensure that they continue to be just that, a valuable resource for our school communities,” said Board Chair Sandra Palazzo.
This study offers us the first comprehensive examination of the strengths and areas for growth of our SRO program and we are committed to continuing rigorous and ongoing observation of the benefits and impacts of the program. Click here to read the report.
About the Researchers
Dr. Sandra Bucerius is a Professor of Sociology & Criminology at the University of Alberta (U of A) and has been appointed an H.M. Tory Chair. She is the Director of the Centre for Criminological Research at the U of A and the Director of the U of A Prison Project.
Dr. Kanika Samuels is an Assistant Professor at the Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Carleton University. Dr. Samuels’ research explores the impact of racial discrimination and its role in maintaining the overrepresentation of Black and Indigenous youth in the criminal justice system.
Dr. Scot Wortley is a Professor at the Centre of Criminology and Sociolegal Studies at the University of Toronto. He is well known for his work in the area of youth crime, crime prevention, and racial equity within the criminal justice system.