Corey Saffold served as a school resource officer for four years at Madison West High School. We asked about the implications of the end of the SRO program and removal of Madison police officers from the schools. Now the head of security at Verona Area School District, he repeatedly said he is only speaking on behalf of what he experienced as an individual.
Madison365: When and where did you serve as a School Resource Officer?
Corey: Madison West High School. I served for four years. The Madison Police Department only allows their officers to work four years then they like to give somebody else a chance to get in. There isn’t any good reason behind it. I think the reason is that there are other officers that like the schedule (of working in a school) and they try to get in there too. In my opinion, if he or she is doing good then the SRO should stay there. This is how most other police districts do it, but Madison police do not. After four years he or she comes out, which I don’t think is smart but nonetheless their officers are out of schools now. So again, it doesn’t matter.
Madison365: What were the key responsibilities of SROs and what sort of education and training did you get to fulfill these responsibilities?
Corey: The responsibilities are varied and it really depends on the type of system you are operating in. So when I was an SRO I really focused on education. Key responsibility for me was educating students that got into legal trouble, instead of charging them or punishing them. So my responsibility was a little different. I did that as cases naturally came to me. If there was a student that stole from the Co-op right around the corner I would immediately put a plan in place or they would pay for whatever it was. Then I would educate them on why this behavior cannot continue because my key responsibility was to think of any and every opportunity to respond restoratively.
Madison365: Did you get training to do this or is it your own way of working?
Corey: No. It is really my own way of working. There is not much training that comes with having the desire to do restorative practices. It is up to the individual officer. Either you have the desire or you don’t. Which is why the success of the School Resource Officer program depends on three things—the culture of the police department, the program that is set up for the officer to work within, and the individual officers him or herself. The reason is that the individual officer has to really focus on restorative practices. He or she should have a desire to do everything in his power or her power to avoid arresting and citing students. Now there are going to be some instances that rise to the level where you have to arrest and give citations, but for the most part, you should be able to work around that, but that’s going to depend on that individual officer wanting to accomplish that, wanting to do it.
Madison365: Are SROs sufficiently trained for healthy and appropriate interventions? Can they identify a problem when it is to do with mental health rather than criminal behavior?
Corey: The police department in general receives training like trauma-informed care or mental health training. I don’t know that there is anything separate that the SROs receive to work in the high schools. That’s why the vetting process for SROs is crucial, because you really have to pick a person that already has that understanding and training. The training you are referring to really is a department-wide training and officers receive it through the department, not necessarily because he or she is an SRO.
Madison365: What would you say will be the biggest challenges facing Madison high schools now that SROs are no longer being used?
Corey: I don’t know that there will be a problem. Once schools are back in session, things may start off normally, with the exception of COVID-19 or you may see a need to call the police. If a large incident arises and those extra resources like the social workers, counselors, behavior specialists, etc., need help, police will need to be called. That may happen on occasion and there isn’t anything unusual about that. The problem is now you don’t have that officer in school that has relationships with students. The officer that responds could really listen to administration and really try to figure out restorative practices for the students, or he or she could not. Now you don’t know what type of response you’ll get, whereas if you have an officer in the school you know what their response would be. Hopefully, you have a good one that works with the administration. In Madison, they will argue that the presence of an officer in school is too traumatic based on the current climate of policing in our country, and I totally understand that. So it really is a hard question to answer. All we can do is wait and see.