St. Louis County Council resolution stirs controversy on School Resource Officers

Non-binding resolution called for eliminating funds for program; but one week later group commends work of SROs in schools

Lafayette+High+School%27s+Resource+Officer+Chad+Deakin+works+at+his+desk+on+Dec.+12+at+Lafayette.+%22SROs+work+hard+to+build+positive+relationships+with+all+students+while+maintaining+a+safe+environment+for+everyone%2C%22+Deakin+said.

Jack Daws

Lafayette High School’s Resource Officer Chad Deakin works at his desk on Dec. 12 at Lafayette. “SROs work hard to build positive relationships with all students while maintaining a safe environment for everyone,” Deakin said.

By Caroline Black, Lafayette High School

Although a recently approved resolution that was narrowly approved by the St. Louis County Council does not prohibit the presence of School Resource Officers (SROs) within school buildings, it strongly recommends their removal from the school setting by limiting and eliminating funds for the program as a whole.

Democratic Council members Kelli Dunaway and Rochelle Walton-Gray introduced the resolution stating they do not “recommend nor advocate for the presence of officers in school settings.” The resolution passed in a 4-3 vote on Nov. 10.

However, after receiving a lot of public outcry and strong opposition from school districts, during the Nov. 17 meeting, the council unanimously adopted a new resolution giving thanks for the excellent work done by area SROs.

The controversy has brought to light the role of the SROs in local schools.

The St. Louis County Police Department (SLCPD) has a total of 44 SROs who serve in 13 school districts throughout the county including several of Rockwood’s schools like Lafayette High School. 

After the Nov. 10 vote, the St. Louis County Police Department released a statement on their Facebook stating, “We cherish the relationships that have been built over the years with students, parents, teachers and administrators.”

The St. Louis County Council resolution includes a statement that the group “recommends that in the event a school district contracts with St. Louis County for Officers located in its schools, that such Officers receive specialized training, and that such training curriculum be reviewed by a panel that consists of a parent, a child psychologist and a social justice professional, as well as the Board.”

In response to the resolution, the St. Louis County Council received a great deal of backlash from community members.

A great number of residents interacted with the SLCPD’s Facebook post and left comments sharing their support of local SROs. 

“The police officers in the schools have been selected to be there because of their training and ability to be more than just law enforcers. SROs work hard to build positive relationships with all students while maintaining a safe environment for everyone,” St. Louis County Police Officer and Lafayette’s SRO Chad Deakin said.

He added, “If they were to remove SROs from the schools it would negatively affect the schools in that response time for an emergency would go up.  They would also struggle because it would not be the same officer responding every time, therefore the knowledge of how the school operates and rapport with officers would diminish.”

The resolution came about because the County partly funds the SRO program, Currently, 75% of the cost of SROs within school buildings is paid for by the school districts, with the remaining 25% being covered by the respective Police Departments. For SROs that are St. Louis County officers, that funding comes from St. Louis County. However, many SROs are actually officers from local police agencies and not funded at all by St. Louis County.

The St. Louis County Police Department currently has over 40 officers inside local schools and every officer has to receive national training prior to appointment.

Associate Principal Michael Franklin acknowledges the significant role of SROs within schools in the Rockwood School District (RSD).

“The School Resource Officer is a school’s liaison to the local police department. Having these men and women as part of the fabric of the school community is hugely beneficial in that they help us promote a safe environment in the building by forming meaningful relationships with our staff and students,” Franklin said.

The week following the passing of the resolution, Dunaway said in an interview with The Lancer Feed that she now believes she made a mistake by signing her name in support.

“The mistake I made was not taking enough time to look at both sides and hear both sides. It was wrong to clump all SROs in the same description in saying we don’t support them because it’s not true. When they are well trained and passionate about protecting kids and making lives better for kids, we should be supportive of SROs,” Dunaway said. 

Dunaway said in order to make a change moving forward it is important that all sides of a story are heard.

“It is vital for leaders in the community to listen and understand both the police officers’ point of view as well as the experience of people who live in over-policed and under-resourced communities,” she said.

In addition to encouraging citizens and County Council members to see all points of view, Dunaway said she believes the issue lies in placing officers in schools who have not been trained through an SRO program.

“The school districts that are contracting with the SLCPD are getting those well-trained SROs because the SLCPD has a good SRO program, but not all the school districts in St. Louis County are using County police officers. Sometimes they’re just officers in schools that are not a part of an SRO program, and those are the real challenges because they aren’t trained in de-escalation. They are just police officers and that is what I think is not right for kids and communities. I think that’s what we need to focus on fixing. Where we fix that, I don’t know yet. That is still something we have to figure out,” Dunaway said.

Dunaway also acknowledges that in order to preserve safety in schools, communication and different organizations working together is key.

“I do think that working with the police department and with communities to make sure that the right police officers are in schools, on the streets and in the neighborhoods is really paramount to getting this right,” Dunaway said. 

On Nov. 17 Rockwood District Safety Supervisor, Ty Dennis, released a statement regarding RSD’s response to the resolution. 

“For many years now, this program has been in place, and we aim to continue with the program moving forward. Our SROs will continue to develop relationships throughout the district that will make these men and women a mainstay within the RSD,” Dennis said.

In his new role as Safety Supervisor for the district, Dennis recently developed a program called Conversations with SROs. He said this will allow staff members, students and SROs to have informal conversations with one another. 

“We need to cultivate trust among our SROs, staff and students. I believe if we nurture the relationship now, we can avoid some of the problems that may arise later in the school year and later in life,” he said. 

In Conversations with SROs, RSD’s staff and students in grades 6-12 are invited to join an hour-long Zoom meeting every month where they are free to ask any questions they wish to be answered.

The program has been up and running for a month now and has already had a total of almost 80 people participate.

“One of our goals is to show that the SROs are a part of the fabric of the school environment in which they work and communicate with students that they’re there for them,” Dennis said. “It provides an open dialogue among everyone involved. The more participants we have, the more questions are asked. And the more questions we have, the more dialogue we hear.” 

If you have any questions regarding the program, Dennis can be contacted at [email protected]

This story was originally published on The Lancer Feed on December 3, 2020.