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    MCSS Launches New “Understanding the Role of the SRO” Course

    A behind the scenes shot showing the webinar setup. Dr. Tarik Harris and Michael Rudinski stand in front of a MCSS backdrop in front of a camera.

    While the term School Resource Officer and acronym SRO date back to the 1950s, the topic of police officers in schools and discussion surrounding the roles they play in an educational environment didn’t make much news until the early 1990s.  

    Federally, an SRO is defined as a “career law enforcement officer with sworn authority who is deployed by an employing police department or agency in a community-oriented policing assignment to work in collaboration with one or more schools.”   Yet, those honored to be SROs in Maryland would tell you the position goes beyond a simple one-line definition.

    An SRO is a “jack of many trades” depending on the situation.  Sometimes an SRO gets to wear his or her “educator” hat and step into the classroom as a guest speaker to share experiences and knowledge from a law enforcement perspective.  Such perspectives, often delivered via presentations, augment schools’ typical curricula and give an SRO the opportunity to work one-on-one in the classroom with students. When the SRO performs the role of an educator it helps to build a positive relationship between a member of the community and a member of the police department, which is not always as achievable outside of a school setting.   Such relationship-building helps foster a sense of community and collaboration that spreads into the neighborhoods where both students and officers go home each afternoon.

    Maryland SROs also serve as informal counselors and can be asked to assist school counselors with mediation efforts. A parent or guardian who has reason to believe his or her student may be involved in illegal activities – such as those relating to drugs or alcohol – may reach out to the SRO for guidance or even assistance in getting the student help.

    Yet, perhaps the most important aspect of the SRO acting as informal counselors in our schools is the opportunity to create trust between a student and an officer to the point that students feel they have someone to act as their caring adult in a school setting.

    A behind the scenes shot showing the back of James Hott's head. Dr. Tarik Harris and Michael Rudinski stand in front of a MCSS backdrop in front of a camera.

    Many times, students just need someone to talk with about their issues in school, at home, or in the community.  Maybe it’s a traffic ticket they received on the way to school or maybe it’s the pressure of trying to achieve and maintain strong grades.  Or perhaps it’s a friend they are concerned about who said something the night before that has them really worried.  

    In all of the above situations and then some SROs are more and do more than just police in schools. They are part confidant and part emergency manager; afterall, they assist schools in preparing for what could be their worst day. And while we would like to believe those days will not happen, SROs work tirelessly to make sure that the school has a reasonable and tested plan that will prepare school faculty, staff, and students if such a day does come. 

    In short, SROs are trained to explore all other avenues of remediation before exercising their law enforcement authority. 

    These topics and more were discussed in the live, interactive, and virtual “Understanding the Role of the SRO” course, which was held by the Maryland Center for School Safety (MCSS) and attended by over 200 participants on August 11, 2020. 

    In just two hours, participants from across Maryland were taught the history and role of the School Resource Officer, foundations of a successful SRO program, common misconceptions even those closest to the SRO have about the role, and how the SRO fits into both the school community and greater community. Course participants had the opportunity to ask questions of their MCSS instructors and interact in real-time with polls, quizzes, and each other.

    Michael Rudinski standing in front of a MCSS backdrop in front of a camera.

    “After providing training to over 900 SROs last summer, we reviewed evaluations of our SRO training,” Michael Rudinski, MCSS School Safety Emergency Preparedness Specialist in Training and Certification, explained.  “The overarching theme was that we needed to provide training for administrators to better understand the role the SRO plays in a school.” 

    Rudinski, a former SRO himself, his colleague James Hott, a former SRO who is now a School Safety Emergency Preparedness Specialist in Training and Certification at MCSS, Dr. Tarik Harris, a former school administrator who is now a Prevention and Intervention Specialist at MCSS, and their team launched the course together to help school administrators, SRO supervisors, and SROs better understand each other and have spatial empathy for one another. 

    “Many times, SROs are asked by administrators to do things that they are prohibited from doing. This is because of a lack of understanding,” Rudinski said. “If they better understand one another, ultimately the student and school benefit from the services that each can provide.”

    Dr. Tarik Harris speaking on camera in front of a MCSS backdrop.

    “When teachers, counselors, coaches, support staff, and SROs work collectively, they shape a climate and culture of school safety,” Dr. Harris explained. “They each have the same goal in mind and that is keeping students safe from harm, so learning becomes the outcome.”

    After Tuesday’s course, the participants did not hold back their thoughts on how they felt this course benefited them. 

    “This course was enlightening and demonstrated some of the complexities in placing an SRO in a school,” one participant stated. 

    “This course is excellent for new (school) administrators,” another participant commented. 

    Others felt the course shouldn’t be limited to school principals and administrators. “This course (or something similar) should also be presented to students so they are aware of what the role the SRO has in their school building so they feel safe and comfortable,” another course participant explained.

    MCSS is currently working on a similar webinar that can be presented to students, parents, and the community.  The MCSS Student Focus Group will be viewing the presentation later this month and providing feedback to make the course information resonate with a student audience.

    To find out more about this course or other training opportunities MCSS offers, or to request this course for your audience, please visit the MCSS training page.

    Finally, MCSS would like to thank our school safety partners for their assistance in the development of this course:

    Dan Helton, Montgomery County Police Department

    Jon Carrier, Anne Arundel County Police Department

    Debbie Toppins, Prince George’s County Public Schools Security

    Edgar Batenga, Prince George’s County Public Schools Employee Performance and Evaluation

    Cory Easlick, Anne Arundel County Police Department

    Kendra Kenny, Allegany County Public Schools Principal

    Candy Cannan, Allegany County Public Schools Principal

    Lt. William Welch, Charles County Security Officer Former SRO

    Post in Category: MCSS SROs Training