Yesterday’s Bergen Record had a story about budget cuts forcing school districts to lose their School Resource Officers. Ridgewood lost its SRO and it’s definitely a loss for our students.
It may surprise some people that I am a fan of police officers in schools for any reason, but the SRO is not simply an armed-guard. Rather than intimidating students, frisking kids, searching lockers or chasing down youthful offenders, the SRO’s benefits are more subtle and long term. In Ridgewood, our SRO formed relationships with students in the high school and middle schools. Actually, elementary school students became acquainted with him as he would occasionally talk to their classes, then when they got to middle school they’d see him more often and perhaps get to know him one on one. And then by high school they were comfortable enough to share information about activities and interests of kids in Ridgewood – things that might happen in school or outside of school. The SRO got to know many students by name, he had his ear to the ground, and heard stories about parties or incidents. He knew who had bad home situations. He helped get assistance for kids with substance problems. And the kids felt he genuinely cared about them. Students could come to him for advice. If he heard about an issue that was in the principal’s purview, he’s share that info. And vice versa. Without a doubt, the SRO prevented some crimes from happening and when there were incidents, he was able to follow-up with more precision and success.
It’s nice to read that some towns, such as New Milford, stepped in with funding from the town budget, to keep SROs in place. Our BOE was unsuccessful in getting the Village of Ridgewood to fund our SRO when grant funding ran out. So the Ridgewood SRO was reassigned to “regular” police work.
Does my opinion of the SRO program conflict with my opinion of extracurricular codes that punish kids for activities that take place outside of school? Absolutely not. I still am not comfortable with a school imposing sanctions – such as barring a student from sports or clubs – because of something they may have done on a Saturday night. But the SRO program was different. It was about communication and rapport and the “it takes a village” mentality, not simply a shortcut to official police reports.
It’s too bad we lost it.