A top school safety official says recent proposals to get rid of school resource officers could lengthen the response time for an armed officer to prevent tragedies such as a school shooting.
At as Burlington School Board meeting Thursday, the board called for the city to support continued funding for school resource officers, or SROs. Board members also debated a resolution that would have disarmed the officers, but that failed by a 6-5 vote.
On Monday, the Burlington City Council will discuss next year’s budget, including funding for SROs.
Rob Evans, the state’s school safety liaison officer for the Agency of Education and the Department of Public Safety, told True North that SROs play a critical role when there is an emergency.
“There absolutely are circumstances where school resource officers, because they have been there, have hastened the response and have been able to mitigate and lessen some of the potential violence, because of the very quick response from those officers there,” he said.
There are examples around the nation of when SROs stopped mass shootings. In Dixon, Illinois, in 2018 an SRO and a former student exchanged gunfire; the officer was able to subdue the attacker and no students were injured. In Ocala Florida that same year, an SRO confronted and arrested a gunman after one student was shot. Many more could have been harmed.
Evans said a mass shooting takes place in a matter of minutes.
“When you look at how fast these things start and how fast these events are over, it’s usually between three, five, and seven minutes from the time that the violence starts to the time that the violence is over,” he said.
He added that having an SRO can make a big difference.
“Just having a school resource officer does not mean that those things won’t happen, but again the quick response if one is on campus certainly leads to a level of preparedness and response that if you don’t have one there, it might be a little bit longer.”
Evans said having an SRO in a school is not the standard — about 30 schools in the state use them. He added these officers have a good record in Vermont and they are not known for racial bias or abuse of power.
“I am not aware of any specific data that shows that is happening here in Vermont,” he said. “Just anecdotally, I am aware of communities that say they have benefited from a school resource program and will continue to invest in programs like that.”
Evans said the programs usually work best when the role of the SRO is focused on interacting with the students and helping them rather than focusing just on discipline and law enforcement.
Some groups, including the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance, oppose SROs.
The regular use of School Resource Officers (SROs) for citations into court and arrests has a disparate impact on BTV's Black students as well as our students on IEPs and LGTBQ youth, states the @ACLU_VT. #BTV #vtpoli #DefundThePolice #GetPoliceOutOfSchools
— Vermont Racial Justice Alliance (@VermontAllies) June 17, 2020
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger and Superintendent Tom Flanagan said they are open to having a dialogue with the public on the subject. Among lawmakers, Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, has voiced concerns about the use of SROs.