The first study ever undertaken in Maine regarding how schools are deploying law enforcement has been released by University of Southern Maine's Cutler Institute for Health and Social Policy. The new report, “School-Based Policing in Maine,” funded by the Maine Juvenile Justice Advisory Group, examines Maine’s increasing use of school resource officers (SROs). In short, the findings indicate that there is currently limited evidence that school policing by itself significantly reduces school violence or improves school safety.
The report’s authors conducted surveys of SROs and school district administrators in Maine, as well as group stakeholder interviews in five sites that deploy SROs. They found that there is wide variation in how Maine’s SRO programs are structured and supported in policy, and as a result, police departments are selecting officers and schools are deploying SROs in a variety of ways.
At the local level, many—though not all—jurisdictions delineate the program with a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the school system and the local law enforcement agency. However these agreements vary widely and there are no statewide policies governing how SROs are deployed; what role-specific training is required for officers in the position; and what data must be collected to ensure that increased contact with law enforcement is not negatively impacting youths’ school connectedness, legal outcomes, or social-emotional well-being.
"SRO programs have proliferated across the country without corresponding evidence that they improve school safety. What we know from the national research is that policing campuses has not significantly reduced school violence but it has led to more youth being referred to the juvenile justice system, particularly for behaviors that were previously handled through school disciplinary channels but began to be labeled disorderly conduct," said Danielle Layton, lead author of the report.
The report also discusses what roles SROs are holding in Maine’s schools, and highlights that communities are hiring more SROs while their schools are not yet meeting recommended ratios for other support professionals such as social workers, guidance counselors, psychologists and nurses.
“The use of a law enforcement officer in the role of a social worker is deeply concerning as it can very easily lead to breaching students’ constitutional rights,” said Ned Chester, who is a defense attorney for youth and a member of the Juvenile Justice Advisory Group.
“Students who see Officer Friendly every day in the lunchroom are going to confide in that officer who they perceive as available and trustworthy, but what law enforcement then does with that information can have devastating impacts on the kid, their family or their peers.”
The authors address the study’s findings with recommendations based on researched best practices.
- Offer uniform guidance in policy. Mandate that school districts with SRO programs have an up-to-date model MOA.
- Invest in holistic school safety. Before funding an SRO program, schools should ensure they are employing student support professionals in the recommended ratios to the student body (e.g. school counselors 1:250, social workers 1:250, psychologists 1:700, nurses 1:750).
- Standardize SRO training requirements to reflect best practices.
- Collect common data to facilitate evaluation. At a minimum, metrics should include the number of times that SROs handcuffed, restrained, summoned or arrested students, and data should be disaggregated by school site.
- Involve stakeholders in program oversight at local and state levels.
- Conduct further research focusing on the actual costs of providing SROs in schools in Maine and the cost of providing the non-law enforcement services that are currently being provided by SROs.
The report and executive summary for “School-Based Policing in Maine” are available here.
Press coverage of the report appeared in the Portland Press Herald, on Maine Public Radio and News Center Maine/WCSH6, and was also featured in an Op-Ed in the Portland Press Herald and mentioned in a recent story about school resource officers in the Portland Press Herald.