McComas: Steps must be taken to revamp the utilization of school-resource officers in the school system

While the Iowa City School Board denounces the addition of school resource officers, it is important to note the benefits of implementing multi-purpose school security measures.


Michael Guhin

The Iowa City Community School District sign is seen on November 5th, 2018. (Michael Guhin/The Daily Iowan)

Danielle McComas, Opinions Columnist

The Iowa City School Board is once again suggesting the addition of school-resource officers to Iowa City public schools. The proposal to add a school-resource officer on local school campuses resurfaced in a School Board meeting last week and was quickly denounced by some in the community for its connection to racially disproportionate arrests.

Instead of (rightfully) viewing these potential problems as setbacks to other forms of school security, the community must come together to re-evaluate options in a time of frequent mass school shootings. The Iowa City School Board and school boards across the country should focus on the ways security and safety initiatives can be implemented without criminalizing minority students.

School-resource officers who are willing to work with students have the opportunity to establish relationships with them and manage situations from a perspective that differs from the school administration’s. These on-campus relationships allow students to view officers as resources early on, which can lead to an appreciation of the police force as adults and a reduction of altercations with the police. Of course, potential resource officers would have to demonstrate a passion for working with students during a selection process to ensure that their role as a school-resource officer would be based on helping local youth rather than criminalizing them.

RELATED: Iowa City parents speak on school resource officers

Studies published by Education Week, the U.S. Justice Department, and the Justice Policy Institute show evidence of school-resource officers contributing to racial disparities in school systems by overly disciplining students of color in comparison with white students. This is an issue that must not be ignored when discussing school-resource officers. Police departments in general should work to improve their biases with implicit-bias training, but schools can also takes steps to avoid hiring racist school-resource officers and revamp their roles with students.

As previously discussed, there must be an in-depth selection process that seeks out the most qualified school-resource officers to work with students every day. To find officers who will look out for the best interests of all students, school districts must ask situation-specific questions so that they can detect any racial biases early on. In addition, anti-discrimination training can be implemented upon hiring school-resource officers.   

These steps may seem counterproductive, but the high demand for increased safety in schools calls for immediate enforcement of more security measures. School-resource officers can fulfill this demand in several capacities in the school system. Primarily, their presence in schools improves the instantaneous nature of responses to problems emerging on school premises. This is crucial to preventing mass shootings, because school-resource officers could be stationed near entrances and exits where potential school shooters may be located.

A school-resource officer brings a perspective and role much different than a principal, so students may feel more comfortable sharing a situation with this individual when they are at school. If officers are approachable and effective enough in reaching solutions with students, their supportive roles could prevent students from reaching the point at which they feel the need to commit violence in schools.

But the poor track record connected to school-resource officers can be hard to overlook when discussing potential school-security options. The resulting racial disparities are unacceptable and must not be repeated if school-resource officers become part of the Iowa City school system. Safety measures must also be re-evaluated to prevent possible attacks on students and staff. This means all options must be considered to determine how schools could benefit from additional security mechanisms, including school-resource officers.