School resource officers back in the spotlight in wake of recent shootings

Published: May. 31, 2022 at 6:30 PM PDT
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SALEM, Ore. (KPTV)—Nearly a week after a tragic mass shooting at Texas elementary school, some parents in the Salem-Keizer School District are wanting to see school resource officers reinstated back on campuses.

Last year, Superintendent Christy Perry told the school board that the district was not going to renew its SRO contracts after they expired in June 2020. Her reasoning at the time was for lack of law enforcement resources to be able to effectively connect with students. But parents say, things have changed over the last year.

Leslie Risewick is one of those parents who is also a volunteer in the district. She said there have been ongoing behavioral issues with students. Risewick believes SROs would help give parents, teachers, and students a sense of security.

“I grew up kind of rough and so I know what it’s like to make choices and not have somebody there saying hey, ‘let’s get you on the right track’ or ‘let me kind of walk you through what this means if you continue to make decisions like this,’” Risewick said.

Jenny Maguire is a former behavioral specialist with the Salem-Keizer School District. She too saw an increase in violent behavior in students and the dwindling support for students with behavioral issues. She worked at two schools, one with a school resource officer and one without. Maguire said she can see the difference between the two campuses.

“I know how essential they are, I know the work they do behind the scenes to develop relationships with students and provide services for families,” Maguire said.

Maguire said SROs she seen in schools try to connect with students, they’re there in parent-teacher meetings if a student has behavioral problems and they can quickly intervene in a dangerous situation. She also said SROs only enforce state and federal law and it’s up to a school’s administration to determine how to punish a student that violated campus policies.

But she does understand, that seeing a police officer for some students, does bring up negative and sometimes traumatizing thoughts from what they experience outside of school.

“At the school side, if we have an officer showing friendliness, compassion, relatability with students, understanding and being someone that is a support for them, and a help for them in those early years, that has potential in growing their trust in going to law enforcement as a resource,” Maguire said.

The president of Salem Keizer EA, the teacher’s union for the district sent FOX 12 a statement about reinstating SROs at schools.

“My members are definitely concerned with school safety, especially after recent events in Texas. SROs are something to possibly be reconsidered; however, many schools that have experienced such violence did have an SRO. Police, at their best, are not always able to prevent crimes. School shootings will not be solved with SROs or more policing. We need a multipronged approach. Stronger gun laws to prevent such easy access to weapons combined with better mental health resources.”

Regardless if you support having SROs on school campuses, Maguire said the community needs to come together and have a tangible conversation about keeping students safe at school.

“We need to get back to what does our community need?” Maguire said. “What are the needs in our community? How can we sharpen mental health support? How can we also take safety seriously?”

FOX 12 did reach out to the Salem-Keizer School District for comment. The district responded, saying:

“We currently do not have an SRO contract – that was discussed, and a decision made in 2020.

In the two years since, we continue to emphasize and implement our successful safety systems and our law enforcement relationships – they work, our threat assessment systems work. At the end of the day, our families want to know their kids are safe. What we do and how we do it assures parents and families.”