As a risk manager for a municipal public entity, you likely are not responsible for the schools in your locale; however, if your law enforcement agency assigns one of their officers to serve as a school resource officer, you now have a stake in the game of liability.
Despite highly publicized school attacks and media reports of school violence, schools remain one of the safest places for children thanks in large part to efforts by school administration and their partnership with local law enforcement.
The first School Resource Officer (SRO) program began in the late 1950s in Flint, Michigan as a way to improve the relationship between local law enforcement and the youth. Since then, the SRO role has become a widely accepted practice across the country and has been proven to help keep our schools safe.
The Duties of a School Resource Officer
An SRO is a law enforcement officer who is employed by a police or sheriff agency that is assigned to one or more schools. The SRO provides a safe learning environment and provides valuable resources to both school staff members and students. The SRO fosters a positive relationship with students and develops strategies to resolve conflicts with the goal of protecting all children. The National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) divides the SRO responsibilities into three areas: teacher, informal counselor and law enforcement officer. Before being assigned to a school, an SRO should undergo specialized training to help minimize liability imposed on the local government or school district.
“Unfortunately, most local governments continue to underperform in the area of SRO training. An examination of SRO training policies undertaken in 2015 observes that despite the “obvious need” for more specialized training, the SRO is more likely to be at risk of violating constitutional rights of students.” -Government Liability and the Failure to Train, Spring 2016
Who Holds Liability in a Lawsuit: The School District or Local Government?
It depends. Typically, the SRO is contracted and paid for by the school district, yet maintains employment through their local law enforcement agency creating vagueness when the issue of liability arises in certain instances. SRO programs should include formal agreements between school districts and law enforcement agencies regarding officer selection, funding, training, supervision, evaluation, and associated issues.
Certain aspects of the responsibilities of the SRO and the relationship between the law enforcement agency and the school addressed in the contract agreement typically includes:
- The SRO should perform law enforcement duties as determined by the Chief of Police, but the school can negotiate those duties based on their specific needs.
- The SRO cannot enforce or institute disciplinary measures as they pertain to a student, but they can remind students of a school rule if necessary.
- An SRO will not be assigned to any job or task beyond the duties of an assigned officer. This means that they will not be assigned to handle situations where the school administration should be in charge: i.e. lunchroom duties, bus monitor, and more.
- The SRO will have their own office space and the resources to allow them to do their job effectively.
- In order to protect the student’s Fourth Amendment Rights, drug violations that are caught by the school cannot result in punitive consequences. These results are confidential at all times.
- The last part of the agreement states the terms of indemnification, or, who should pay for what. It is not uncommon to see “each party should be held from all liability.” If no one is responsible for legal fees, cost of judgments, and other things, who will be the one to pay for it? That is the big question and concern. Specify who is responsible for what actions.