East Aurora Advertiser

Letter to the Editor: Looking for Discussion on role of School Resource Officers

Dear Editor,

In compliance with New York State mandates, the East Aurora Police Department recently released the draft Reform and Reinvention Report for community review. The department has done a great job making this process open and transparent, which helps “foster [the] trust, fairness, and legitimacy” this process was intended to promote. I also appreciate the EAPD efforts to “explore employing a routine and regular process for formally seeking feedback from the community.” Kudos to Police Chief Shane Krieger and his staff for taking on this process with introspection and integrity.

In the hopes of promoting further community discussion, I would like to comment on one of the topics mentioned in the report, the School Resource Officer (SRO) program. The report mentions that “the program is held in such high regard that earnest discussions had been held to expand the program by adding police personnel to the SRO program.” While I don’t doubt that there is support for the SRO program in the community, I’d like to offer a dissenting opinion.

SRO programs were developed in the late 1960s with the goal of revitalizing the image of police in the eyes of the youth. It was greatly expanded in the 1980s and 1990s as part of the War on Drugs, and is now used in many school districts as the primary interpreter of codes of conduct and school disturbance laws. More generally, the program is one element in the larger trend of increasing the role of the carceral state in our society. Today, police officers are tasked with acting as crisis responders for mental health calls, social workers tending to well visits, and teachers and counselors in our schools. As of this month, officers in the NYPD are being asked to act as medics in the administration of Covid 19 vaccines to people living in public housing developments.

Over the past year, we’ve been charged with reflecting on our systems of public safety and the equity with which they are administered. As part of this process, we need to reevaluate the role of the SRO program in our community. What function does it serve? Is it a public relations program to develop community trust in our law enforcement officers? Wouldn’t this be better addressed by having friendly officers walking the community and chatting with locals than stationing armed personnel in our schools? Are they there to teach children about laws and safety? Wouldn’t a professional educator trained in pedagogy and classroom management be a better fit? Are they there to support social development? Wouldn’t we rather put that money into increasing the reach of our trained mental health professionals and guidance counselors?

The larger question looms, “What role do we want our police force to play in the pursuit of public safety in our community?” 

Based on the weekly notes in the police blotter, it seems our biggest need is addressing rampant drunk driving. Instead of increasing police presence (and spending) in our schools, perhaps we should focus on supporting the officers working to solve this problem. I welcome everyone to give this topic some thought and join the conversation.

Zachary Taggart

East Aurora

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