A school resource officer for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, is facing felony charges for failing to protect students during the Parkland shooting, The New York Times reports.
Deputy Scot Peterson, the school resource officer and only armed guard on campus, reportedly retreated to safety during one of the nation’s deadliest school shootings and is now being charged with 11 counts of child neglect, culpable negligence and perjury after a 15-month investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Invoking negligence laws that are usually applied to parents to hold law enforcement and school resource officers accountable is new ground in the aftermath of a shooting, and the felony charges could alter how schools approach the roles of resource officers in safety planning.
With a recent uptick in school shootings across the nation, a renewed spotlight has been placed on school resource officers and their role in school safety and violence prevention. Because officer selection and training varies widely across schools and localities, roles adopted by SROs and their approaches to the job can also vary. However, Mo Canady, the executive director for the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) and a former SRO, told Education Dive that one thing is certain — SROs are not just armed guards, but must be involved in the community as effective officers.
“We’re not security guards, we’re professional law enforcement officers whose assignment is to be in the school environment in a community-based policing approach,” Canady said. “It’s a very holistic approach.”
“We know that a carefully selected officer who is specifically trained to work in that environment and is doing so with a lot of passion can make a difference when acts of violence occur,” he continued. The best school resource officers, he said, are those who engage in community-based policing, and take a more active role in building and following relationships with students, school faculty, and families.
Some experts, however, worry that the charges brought against Peterson could actually lead to SROs adopting a more hardened, "militaristic" approach to school safety instead — or even avoid pursuing the job entirely, according to The 74.
“We need SROs who are carefully selected and specifically trained to build relationships with students and their parents,” Canady said. “If something has heard something about a potential act of violence, there is a good chance that the SRO is going to hear about it and stop something before it occurs.”
When placing a school resource officer, it is important for school administration and local law enforcement to build a strong and collaborative relationship. While law enforcement agencies will often lead the way during the hiring process, it is particularly key for school administration to take a more active role during interviews and keep the doors of communication open.