BY MICHAEL RYAN, SUNRISE MAYOR
It was the first week of elementary school. As a young student ran towards his mom anxiously waiting to hear about his day, he turned and pointed back down the hall. Excitedly, he yelled for all to hear, “That is my new best friend. That’s Officer Ben.”
School Resource Officer Ben, in full police uniform, had comforted the young student when he was crying and felt all alone in the cafeteria. Officer Ben positively influenced a young student that day and we hope for life.
The School Resource Officer program is a unique and demonstrated successful opportunity to blend community policing with education, mentoring, and safety.
SRO’s Threatened by Funding Inequities and Tough Times
Through a cooperative agreement with the School Board, participating cities receive $46,252 reimbursement from the School Board for each SRO. According to the School Board, this represents one-half the school year costs associated with SRO duties. The remainder of the costs must be absorbed by the individual cities.
But, there is inequity, instability and inconsistency in the program countywide.
Some residents may demand and financially support full-time SROs in “their” schools. However, their own children may be designated to attend schools in another city – to schools in cities without SROs.
In contrast, some residents do not help fund the municipal costs of SROs, but send their children to schools outside their city – to schools in cities with SROs.
Some cities have entirely eliminated SROs in elementary schools. Others, not wanting to eliminate the program entirely, have chosen to share SROs amongst two or three elementary schools.
Elimination of SROs in elementary schools and the inconsistency of the program across the county prevent us from maximizing the intended long-term benefits of the SRO program.
What is a School Resource Officer?
SROs are part of the integrated educational team which protects, guides and molds our most precious gifts – our children.
The SRO is a certified law enforcement officer who undergoes additional specialized screening and training to serve in our schools.
They are NOT security guards.
They are police officers available to teach and mentor students, while having the full capacity to provide a law enforcement response in the community.
SROs: Kindergarten to High School Graduation
Parents, teachers, administrators and those in law enforcement committed to the SRO program agree — elementary schools are the place to foster and grow effective SRO relationships we know are critically important in the middle and high schools.
The SRO is meant to generate a positive attitude towards law enforcement, offer educational support in our fight against drugs, crime and bullying, develop an understanding of the behavioral issues in the neighborhood and youth community, and construct a beneficial foundation for future interactions with law enforcement.
The presence of the SRO also provides a deterrent to those targeting young children around our schools. Other beneficial features include traffic safety and an expedited law enforcement response to school violence or weapons.
Does Your Public School Have a SRO?
According to the School Board, the extent of the SRO program depends on where you live and where your child goes to school:
- Full-time SRO’s in all schools, including elementary: Coconut Creek, Cooper City, Margate, Miramar (also has two in each High School), Parkland, Sunrise.
- Part-time SROs in elementary schools: Coral Springs, Dania Beach, Deerfield Beach, Pembroke Pines, Plantation, Pompano Beach (one covering three schools), Tamarac, Weston (one covering three schools), Wilton Manor (SRO has road patrol duties).
- No SROs in elementary schools: Davie, Fort Lauderdale, Hallandale (none in Elementary or Middle School), Hollywood, Lauderdale Lakes, Lauderhill, North Lauderdale, Oakland Park.
Since 2006, countywide there are 10 less schools, but 33 less SROs.
The reduction has been almost exclusively in elementary schools!
Why You Should Care?
Even if you do not have a child in public school or in a school where there are no SROs, you should care.
You must care how a young student perceives law enforcement and what law enforcement knows about our young people.
You must care whether or not young people see law enforcement as someone they can trust to seek help from in times of trouble.
You must care whether or not students are being taught about the dangers of drugs, gangs, bullying and peer-pressure from the youngest age.
Those students will grow up, will travel around the county, and may later live in your city. How they were taught, what they were taught, and who their influences were will impact you.
In Sunrise, we are declaring November 8, 2011 “School Resource Officer Day.” We are proud as a community and as a Commission to be able to support a full-time SRO program.
We Must Work Together to Find Equitable Solutions
For some cities facing tough budget decisions, funds from seizures may be legally available to help. However, forfeiture funds are not a long-term, stable source of funding.
Some of my colleagues around the County have suggested other imaginative ideas for funding: Parking, traffic and/or “school zone” violation tickets might provide an opportunity to off-set municipal costs.
This year, the Education Committee and the Public Safety Committee of the Broward League of Cities intend to work jointly towards proposing solutions.
Working together with the School Board, the law enforcement community, parents, educators, residents and elected officials, we need long-term, equitable and stable solutions for all public schools – for the benefit of students, teachers, parents and our entire community.
(As former Chair of the Broward County Council of PTAs’ SRO Committee, former two-term president of an elementary school PTA, and father of 2 children in public schools, Mike Ryan has been an advocate for the SRO program. This year, he is Chair of the Public Safety Committee of the Broward League of Cities.)