Together with his fellow candidates for EG Town Council, Brandon Salomon and Brian Turner, Peter published this piece in EG News regarding Affordable Housing on October 22. The same piece was published in The Pendulum earlier in the week.
Peter wrote an Opinion piece for EG News on the topic of School Resource Officers which was published on October 10th. It includes some of the research from his blog posts below. https://eastgreenwichnews.com/opinion-research-supports-sros-in-elementary-schools/
More Evidence of the Need for SROs in East Greenwich Elementary Schools
In response to comments made by some current School Committee members at a recent candidate forum hosted by East Greenwich News, I would like to further elaborate on the need for School Resource Officers at the elementary level and my rationale for funding them.
School Committee member Nicole Bucka stated that all of the research from the past ten years, including a 2021 Brown University study, shows that SROs do not prevent school shootings. The study to which she referred, The Thin Blue Line in Schools: New Evidence on School-Based Policing Across the U.S., is based on a limited amount of data covering about 5 years. Despite this narrow sample, even this research saw some benefit to SROs: “Consistent with frequently cited objectives of SRO programs, increased presence of SROs reduces the incidence of some forms of violence within schools, such as physical attacks without a weapon. Contrary to the objectives, however, the expansion of SROs appears to increase gun-related offenses, perhaps due to increased detection and reporting activities of the police officer within the school.” The researchers viewed the increase in detection of weapons, disciplinary responses, and arrests as negative outcomes. However, if students are committing dangerous offenses, wouldn’t it protect our school communities by discovering and acting on them before they become fatal?
While the study did show a disproportionate disciplinary record for minorities and students with disabilities, the authors stated, “We have no way to disentangle the causal pathways through which SROs influence student offenses and disciplinary outcomes. We do not know, for instance, whether the increase in suspensions and expulsions comes from increased detection of student misconduct by SROs, or from increased pressure on school administrators to punish student misconduct, or some other mechanism.” In other words, the researchers could not prove a causal effect between SROs and poor outcomes for these groups. Furthermore, this research coincided with the call for the elimination of SROs in the wake of the Defund the Police movement. As a result of this nationwide phenomenon, many schools across the country did away with their SRO programs only to reinstate them later, as is the case in Alexandria, VA (https://wjla.com/features/i-team/in-the-wake-of-school-violence-school-resource-officers-reinstated-in-alexandria).
I continue to research the outcomes of school-based violence and believe it is important to refer to studies which use a greater sample size such as the 2019 Protecting America’s Schools: A U.S. Secret Service Analysis of Targeted School Violence (https://www.secretservice.gov/sites/default/files/2020-04/Protecting_Americas_Schools.pdf). In this study, the U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) looked at 41 incidents of targeted school violence that occurred at K-12 schools in the U.S. from 2008 to 2017. What the NTAC found is compelling:
SRO Response Time is Superior
The most critical element to consider when confronting an active threat situation is the time it takes for responders to reach the scene and counter the threat. This table from the NTAC analysis shows that the time it takes for an SRO to actively respond to the threat is substantially shorter than in cases where Law Enforcement Officers must respond from off-site.
In fact, for those schools which had SROs able to respond (i.e., not off-duty or the initial victim of the attack) the SRO was responding in a minute or less in 70% of the cases as opposed to 2% for responders coming from outside of the school.
Attacks Are Averted by SROs
According to the NTAC, “Six of the attacks ended with law enforcement intervention, either by SROs or by local police who were already on campus. No attacks were ended by outside law enforcement agencies responding to the scene from off-campus.” Many children were protected from harm due to the quick action of SROs or other officers who were present when the attack occurred. They did not need to wait for a call to be made to police or while police traveled to the scene.
A Multi-Layered Approach
School Committee Vice Chair Allyson Powell stated that no one person can prevent school violence. I would ask stakeholders to refer to my original blog post on this topic in which I described the multi-layered approach to school security. Security programs, in general, rely on a strategy of “defense in depth” meaning that there are several layers, barriers, or obstacles that a threat must penetrate, avoid, or subvert to accomplish their mission. Normally, these layers include technological solutions, physical barriers, as well as properly trained and equipped personnel as the last line of defense. Removing any one of above layers introduces vulnerabilities into the system and makes it easier for people with ill-intent to perpetrate their heinous acts. Elementary schools are often soft targets because they are less likely to have SRO protection. It should also be noted that physical barriers will not stop an attacker who assaults children outside the school building. I would also ask, if SROs do not help prevent school violence, then why does our current School Committee support their use at the middle and high school levels?
Other Benefits of SROs
In another exchange during the forum, Ms. Powell suggested that SROs would serve no purpose at the elementary level. I ask policy makers to consider the evidence that SROs can refer troubled children to social services early and before they become dangerous. According to the NTAC, “Fourteen attackers (40%) had evidence of exposure to family discord…These hostile events often occurred multiple times throughout the attackers’ lives.” In other words, people who committed acts of school violence often had emotional family turmoil dating back to their elementary school years.
An SRO can play a vital role in observing children outside the classroom, before and after school, at recess, in the hallways, and at lunchtime. They are specially trained to note when students are experiencing difficulties. Young children who do not have a supportive family life are often the targets of bullies in school. In fact, “Most of the attackers in this study (80%) were bullied by their classmates. For more than half of the attackers (57%), the bullying appeared to be of a persistent pattern which lasted for weeks, months, or years” (NTAC). Therefore, bullying can often begin when a child is young.
Bullies often perpetrate their most hurtful behaviors when students are not under the watchful eye of teachers. And bullying can continue outside of schools in the community where SROs patrol. Students being bullied are often too ashamed to report these incidents. With a lack of support at home, their parents are also less likely to know about or report these behaviors to administration. According to the NTAC, in more than half of the cases, the attacker’s parents were unaware that their child experienced bullying. In only 34% of cases where school violence occurred, a school official was aware that the attacker had experienced bullying. An SRO could enhance the schools’ protection of students who experience bullying by offering another trusted adult to whom children can report abuse before they turn to violence.
“All Means All”
Our district’s motto is “All Means All.” Let’s apply the same principle to school security as we do to other services we offer students. Elementary school students deserve the equivalent protection that our middle and high school students enjoy.
A Case for School Resource Officers in East Greenwich Elementary Schools
After the heartbreaking tragedy that befell the community of Uvalde, Texas, increased security in schools was, again, brought to the forefront of many parents’ minds. As the father of two children, as well as a retired Submarine Officer, safety and security are amongst my top priorities. East Greenwich currently employs two School Resource Officers (SROs) who are assigned to Cole Middle School and EG High School. Our town currently has no SROs assigned to its elementary schools. Although I am encouraged to know that our community is currently well-served by these two officers, I am very concerned that our elementary schools, unfortunately, remain soft targets.
As you may already be aware, three Rhode Island gun legislation measures were passed in the wake of this terrible crime: raising the legal age to purchase a rifle or shotgun from 18 to 21 (the age for handguns was already set at 21), limiting the size of magazines, and prohibiting the open carry of rifles or shotguns. Voters may disagree about the effectiveness of these laws at preventing future acts of violence. However, my years of experience as a Force Protection Officer and Security Manager, responsible for training and overseeing Security Forces on several submarines and at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, I firmly believe that our elected town officials must not rely on this legislation alone to protect our school children. Furthermore, Town Councilors must show true leadership by enacting policies for the Town of East Greenwich, rather than relying on national or state legislation as the solution to local problems.
Security programs, in general, rely on a strategy of “defense in depth” meaning that there are several layers, barriers, or obstacles that a threat must penetrate, avoid, or subvert to accomplish their mission. Normally, these layers include technological solutions, physical barriers, as well as properly trained and equipped personnel as the last line of defense. Removing any one of above layers introduces vulnerabilities into the system and makes it easier for people with ill-intent to perpetrate their heinous acts.
It is important to understand that our town is continually implementing innovative ways in which to protect our schools, most of which cannot be made public for obvious security reasons. However, in addition to the actions that our police are currently taking, it is imperative that we add another layer of protection by installing SROs in our elementary schools. Allow me to explain my rationale.
How do SROs Work?
SROs are an invaluable source of protection. They observe the kids as they arrive at school, interact with them in the hallways between classes, eat lunch with students, coach sports, and generally have eyes and ears on tensions within the student body and the community. During their school careers, students get to know their SROs and learn that they can confide in them about bullying, abuse, and potential dangers. According to the School Safety Working Group’s report to the U.S. Department of Justice (2020), “The ability of specially selected and trained SROs to establish trust relationships with students has been demonstrated to prevent school shootings. In addition, there have been numerous documented instances of SROs directly intervening to prevent or quickly mitigate active school shootings ... The school personnel best positioned to respond to acts of violence are those with specialized training such as school resource officers…” (https://cops.usdoj.gov/RIC/Publications/cops-w0891-pub.pdf).
SROs are not disciplinarians and are not tasked with imposing punishments. They should not serve in school support roles as a hall monitor, substitute teacher, or cafeteria monitor in place of a teacher or aide.
Detractors would have the public believe that advocates for better school security wish to arm teachers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although teachers can play a role in protecting students, their primary job is to teach. According to the National Association of State Boards of Education, “A school resource officer shall be 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. School resource officers should have completed at least forty (40) hours of specialized training in school policing, administered by an accredited agency, before being assigned” (https://statepolicies.nasbe.org/health/categories/social-emotional-climate/school-resource-officer-training/rhode-island).
SROs Prevent School Violence
According to Frelich et al., in their report to the Department of Justice entitled “Understanding the Causes of School Violence Using Open Source Data” (2021), "Schools with adolescent shootings that had police officers, or their building was multi-story, increased the odds that they would experience a non-fatal, as opposed to a fatal, shooting…Our case studies highlighted the key role of opportunities. Many offenders were able to enter the school with a gun unmolested and without any restrictions at all. Others accessed firearms while they were underage." In other words, when the researchers examined the individual decision making of bad actors, they found that, for crime to occur, there must be the opportunity to commit the act. They explained that successful interventions, such as the presence of SROs, are often able to reduce or remove the availability of crime opportunities (https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/301665.pdf).
It should be noted that recent gun legislation does nothing to prevent people under the age of 21 from borrowing a family member’s gun or buying one illegally. And it does not stop people over the age of 21 from threatening our students. When contacted about adding SROs to East Greenwich elementary schools in June, three School Committee members and one Town Council member responded, none of whom indicated at the time that they would advocate for more SROs. In fact, one School Committee member shared the belief that addressing the social emotional concerns of EG students is the most effective method for preventing school violence. Certainly, mental health services are sorely needed amongst our youth, especially after the unintentional harm brought about by nearly two years of remote learning, but how do in-school services reach people who may not attend EG schools or who have been expelled? According to the United States Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) report “K-12, Characteristics of School Shootings” (2020), “The shooter in about half of school shootings was a student or former student; in the other half, the shooter had no relationship to the school, was a parent, teacher, or staff, or his or her relationship to the school was unknown, according to the data” (https://www.gao.gov/assets/gao-20-455.pdf). Therefore, in about half of all cases, schools could not have met the social emotional needs of the school shooters because they were not students.
Here are several cases in which SROs intervened in potentially dangerous situations in schools:
Lone resource officer's quick action stopped the Maryland school shooter within seconds | CNN
Police: School resource officer disarmed gunman at Mich. high school (police1.com
Alabama school resource officer kills man trying to enter school | Reuters
State organization honors Olathe East SRO for valor during school shooting (kctv5.com)
Who Is Deputy Jim Long? Resource Officer Stopped Forest High School Shooter (newsweek.com)
Other Towns are Taking Action to Prevent School Violence
Should East Greenwich adopt my plan to increase the number of SROs, we would not be alone. In Rhode Island, North Providence currently assigns at least one SRO to its elementary schools. Westerly is currently on track to add SROs to all of its primary schools. In Connecticut, New Milford, Killingly, East Hampton, Ansonia, New Fairfield, and Madison have all recently hardened their schools, including many elementary schools, by hiring more SROs.
Funding for SROs
Resource Officers are members of the East Greenwich Police force, which is overseen by the EG Town Council and funded by the town. They are not employees of the schools. In 2019, the state began a 3-year program that would provide up to 50% of an SROs salary for towns that created new positions for SROs in their schools. This spring, six Democratic State Representatives proposed legislation that would extend this grant of state funds indefinitely, thus assisting more districts (including East Greenwich) to add SROs to the layered defense of their schools. To date, the legislation has not moved out of committee review, and it will be up to the General Assembly to take up the topic in their next session. It is important to note that the use of SROs enjoys bipartisan support, as it should.
Towns can receive additional funds for SRO programs through federal grants from the Department of Justice, including the Community Oriented Policing Services in Schools program (https://cops.usdoj.gov/supportingsafeschools). South Kingstown has been the beneficiary of this grant.
In May, Governor McKee announced that the Rhode Island Department of Education will authorize up to $500,000 in emergency approval through the School Building Authority for each district to make whatever additional security upgrades their school facilities need (https://governor.ri.gov/press-releases/governor-mckee-ride-and-law-enforcement-partner-local-education-agencies-immediate). Town Councilors should advocate for some of these funds to be designated for the hiring of SROs.
If SROs are deemed a worthy expense at Cole Middle School and EG High School, then why are we falling short in our elementary schools? We cannot be assured that our community is fully protected without adding this extra layer of protection.
The tragedy in Uvalde serves as a reminder that, even with officers at the scene of a crime, lack of training, poor communication, and simple human error can prevent the necessary life-saving actions from taking place. As a candidate for Town Councilor, I believe that we owe our Police Department the support, equipment, and training they need to promptly and decisively respond to a similar situation at one of our schools.
Furthermore, some community members may want to believe that a dangerous incident like Uvalde’s could never occur in our peaceful town. The GAO (2020) found that, although towns such as EG may have fewer incidents, “Suburban and rural, wealthier, and low minority schools had more suicides and school-targeted shootings, which had the highest fatalities per incident. Overall, more than half of the 166 fatalities were the result of school-targeted shootings.” East Greenwich is not immune and needs to take precautions.
My experience with training Sailors to be the security force aboard submarines makes me uniquely qualified to work with the EGPD and the School Committee to put in place the most comprehensive, robust school security program possible. I understand how to perform a threat assessment and how to make our schools harder targets against a wide variety of scenarios. I also understand that improvements and changes cannot happen overnight, but we need to begin taking action now so that we are ready to face challenges that might arise in the future. Failure to do so will only increase the risk to our schools and our children.
Protecting our schools should not be an “either/or” situation; we need to apply all approaches to make our students, teachers, and school staff as safe as we can.