Sheriffs’ deputies serving as school resource officers (SROs) staff many North Carolina schools. Contrary to popular belief, SROs do not act simply as “security guards” for the schools, but as a comprehensive law enforcement resource. SROs are trained to use a community-oriented policing approach to build relationships with students and school staff.
Only a law enforcement officer can be an SRO in North Carolina. In addition to basic law enforcement training (BLET), an officer must complete the Basic School Resource Officer Training course offered by the North Carolina Justice Academy to be an SRO. This course teaches various topics from the search and seizure of students to the role of an SRO on a school campus.
SROs who want to further their education and training may choose to pursue a “School Resource Officer Certificate” through the North Carolina Justice Academy. The certificate requires the successful completion of at least 400 classroom hours of instruction on advanced issues such as crime prevention, mental health, use of K9s, and active shooter readiness. Randolph County requires they pursue the certification. Eight Randolph County SROs have their Justice Academy Certificate with multiple awaiting the presentation of the final class in order to be certified.
Commenting on the importance of SROs in North Carolina Schools, Iredell County Sheriff and North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association President Darren Campbell remarked, “Because schools house our most precious commodities, sheriffs and law enforcement agency heads are selective in who they choose to serve as an SRO. Contrary to popular belief, it is not an easy job. SROs have to be able to relate to kids and parents, work side by side with teachers and administrators, and have the respect of all of those individuals. That is a monumental task.”
Before school is even in session, SROs may participate in back-to-school events where they can get to know some of the students, parents, and staff they will be working with throughout the school year.
During the school year, the presence of an SRO on a school campus provides an extra layer of protection. Students and staff can feel safer knowing there is a law enforcement officer close by who can respond within moments if any issues arise. Seeing a sheriff’s office or law enforcement vehicle on campus also acts as a deterrent to anyone who may want to enter the school unlawfully or cause problems on campus.
In many North Carolina counties, there is at least one SRO assigned to every public school at all levels – elementary, middle, and high school. The age of the children in the schools impacts the types of duties an SRO performs on a daily basis. In most cases, SROs are usually on campus for the entire day to see students arriving and leaving and even for after-school events.
In Randolph County, the Board of Commissioners approved four new deputy sheriff positions, along with vehicles and equipment to cover its 17 public elementary schools beginning in January 2023. Each officer has been assigned to elementary schools within one of the four zones. They supplement the county's existing school resource officer program, in which deputies are stationed at middle and high schools. The CARE and DARE Officers, who are also SRO certified, supplement our SROs in the elementary schools.
In an elementary school, an SRO will usually start their day by checking on the school grounds, ensuring they are secure before students begin to arrive. Then, the SRO may help with student drop-off as kids come for class. The elementary school SRO may assist students out of cars and off buses and walk them to the school to ensure they get inside safely and on time.
While the younger kids are in their classrooms, the SRO will continue making rounds of the school periodically throughout the day. The SRO may also spend some time interacting with the kids, teaching them about their role as a law enforcement officer and forming positive relationships. One goal of an SRO at an elementary school is to show kids at a young age that law enforcement officers are trustworthy and are always there to help them whenever they need it.
At the middle school level, an SRO’s daily duties may be a little different. A middle school SRO will still inspect school buildings and grounds in the morning and assist with students arriving for the day. There are rare occasions when these SROs may need to assist the school principal in dealing with criminal activity on campus. In middle schools, SROs also engage with parents to remind them law enforcement is present to keep their kids safe.
An SRO’s job changes even more at the high school level. As students arrive in the morning, the SRO will often patrol the student parking lot. Many students begin getting their driver’s licenses and their first cars in high school. Therefore, SROs make a point of patrolling the parking lot to ensure the safety of the new drivers,
A high school SRO’s job will likely be ever-changing. High school years can be stressful, so the meaningful relationships that SROs form during high school years are especially important for the older kids. SROs may be able to educate students on career opportunities in the sheriff’s office and assist them in making important future decisions. Sometimes the SROs may have to carry out their more law-enforcement centered duties on a high school campus, but these incidents are generally rare.
In addition to keeping schools safe, SROs may be able to use their relationships with students to see when they may be having some trouble at home or in school. Working with school staff, SROs can provide resources and assistance to those struggling students or the student’s family who may need a little help getting through the school year.
Even during the summer months when schools are not in session, SROs provide assistance to students. Randolph County SROs host a summer camp for at-risk youth at no charge to the students and give them an opportunity to learn valuable lessons and skills to help them succeed as they progress through school.
As kids get ready to go back to school this year, they, their families and the community can rest assured knowing the dedicated and well-trained SROs on their school’s campus are there to serve, support and protect them throughout the school year.