I train school resource officers. Don’t replace us — help us.

Joey Melvin, Opinion contributor
Published 7:00 a.m. ET June 28, 2020

In a perfect world, schools would have in-school mental health professionals, but resource officers like me have an important role too.

It is undeniable that the recent in-custody death of George Floyd in Minnesota has shaken our entire country. The feelings of anger and frustration regarding law enforcement have spread like wildfire, gaining momentum every day. The voices raised against injustice and inequality are getting louder, demanding not just for a single wrong to be made right, but for a brutally honest evaluation of law enforcement everywhere.

I, too, join the collective voice, which demands justice for the disturbing actions which took place on May 25 and for the enhancement of law enforcement policies and training.

In the ensuing weeks since Floyd’s death, many and varied opinions on law enforcement and societal reform have been put forward. Suggestions relating to policies, demands for greater transparency and an evolving push for the defunding of police agencies are swirling in mainstream and social media. School resource officer (SRO) programs have not escaped either scrutiny or criticism.

Some communities across the country want to divert SRO resources to nurses and full-time mental health support. The value of adding health resources to our schools cannot be disputed. However, as an experienced school resource professional, I feel that what needs to transpire is not a transference of focus or funding, but an addition to resources within our schools. In my opinion, replacing one resource with another cannot occur without negative impacts. 

As SROs know their communities, they also know their students. Understanding a student’s background and, more importantly, any trauma our students have experienced plays an integral role in an SRO’s decisions. While I have countless stories to support this, I feel compelled to share this one.

Students in need

Early in my career as an SRO, I was in my office when I heard shouting in the school hallway, followed by the discipline dean escorting a student down the hall. I was not sure if I should involve myself in the situation or not, but as the shouting grew louder, I went out to check on the dean. The dean informed me the student was attempting to leave school and asked if I would stay with him while his guardian was contacted.

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The student’s actions were disrupting the rest of the classrooms, and I asked him to enter the dean’s office. He refused, so I began to escort him into the room. He fought, and I had to force him into the room where he continued to resist. For his own safety, he had to be detained.

My patrol law enforcement mindset was telling me, “offensive touching, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest.” But then, as I sat with the student and dean, I saw his anger turn to sadness, and he began to sob uncontrollably. The student began to gather control of himself and tell his story. The previous night, Family Services had entered his home and removed him, his parents and all his siblings. It was a gut-wrenching story. 

After hearing this, I imagined myself at 13 years old and could not fathom how I would react had it happened to me. I realized this student was very traumatized and understanding that I determined that no arrest would be made. 

What if I had not taken the time to hear this young man’s story? Would an arrest have benefited him? This young man got through the incident and, for years after, would greet me almost daily in the hallway. What would the perception of police have been to this student had I arrested him? 

Supplement, don’t replace

Today, as a certified school resource officer trainer, I work with current and prospective SROs to ensure they can identify underlying issues and respond in the manner appropriate for the issue at hand. 

Envision the above situation in a school without an SRO. The administration would have called 911, and a patrol unit would have responded. The patrol officer would not have been privy to the traumatic incident the student had just endured, nor would the officer be afforded the time away from the street to counsel the student.

The perfect scenario would’ve included an in-school mental health professional, as well as a certified SRO, to ensure the appropriate resources for the student involved. Getting rid of the nation’s school resource officers is akin, in my opinion, to that old adage, “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

The physical safety of our school campuses is also an essential role for the trained SRO. That’s an integral part of any SRO’s job, and there’s data to support the positive aspects of it, but the majority of positive impacts SROs make every day cannot be quantified with data. Mitigating situations, preventing crimes, mentoring children and building trusting relations are hard to track, but abundantly exist in schools with effective SRO programs.

Joey Melvin is an instructor and Region 3 director for the National Association of School Resource Officers and a detective/school resource officer with the Georgetown Police Department in Sussex County. He has spent more 18 years in law enforcement and was formerly deputy director of Delaware’s Comprehensive School Safety Plan. This column was originally published in the Delaware News Journal.


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