Research finds that SROs reduce some violent incidents in schools by 30%, increase disciplinary incidents by 90%

The debate about school resource officers (SROs) in Minnesota’s schools — or not, as the case may be — has, so far, been conducted with little recourse to the data. This is a shame, because data can break us out of a rhetorical stalemate. If it shows that having SROs in schools makes them safer, then the pressure on the governor to finally grow some backbone, stand up to his activist base, and call a special session to address the situation will be stronger. If, however, the data show that SROs in schools don’t make them safer, then this is all a fuss about nothing.

Fortunately, research is available which investigates whether or not SROs in schools make students safer.

A forthcoming paper by researchers at the State University of New York and the RAND Corporation which examines this question finds “that SROs effectively reduce some forms of violence in schools, but do not prevent gun-related incidents.” As Christopher Ingraham notes for the Minnesota Reformer:

For a hypothetical school of 1,000 students, hiring an SRO leads to six fewer violent in-school incidents – fights, robberies and threats of violence. That works out to about a 30% decline. 

However, the researchers also write:

…that SROs intensify the use of suspension, expulsion, police referral, and arrest of students. These increases in disciplinary and police actions are consistently largest for Black students, male students, and students with disabilities.

As Christopher Ingraham summarizes:

There are 24 additional suspensions, one or two more expulsions, and two more referrals to the criminal justice system. Those are increases of up to 90% over the baseline level.

As the authors conclude, “The results of this study present a difficult set of tradeoffs.” So they do.

On the one hand, SROs appear to meet some of their stated objectives. They protect students from a non-trivial number of physical attacks and fights within schools–an effect that could generate a variety of long-term academic and psychological benefits to students through decreased exposure to violence (Burdick-Will, 2016) or through reduced disruption in the academic environment (Figlio, 2007).

On the other hand:

…having an SRO in the school also leads to undeniably harsher disciplinary punishments for students, and particularly for Black students, male students, and students with disabilities.

So here is that trade off: SROs “buy” you a decline of 30% in some violent incidents at the “cost” of a 90% increase in disciplinary incidents. The question for Minnesotans is: Is that a trade off you are willing to make?

If you agree, join our call to action, Back to Session, here.