The Evolving Role of Police in the Schools

 Officer Manny Fardella, SRO
  Cheyenne, WY Police Dept.

It is just another typical day at work for police officer Emmanuel “Manny” Fardella, a member of the Cheyenne, Wyoming Police Department. Fardella serves as the School Resource Officer (SRO) at Cheyenne’s South High School. His day, like many who serve in similar roles in schools across America, begins by being visible as kids first enter the school in the morning. He walks the halls, saying hello to staff and students, working to develop positive relationships. Once students are in class, he starts on some of his other daily duties such as meeting with students and teachers, helping school administrators with some special projects, teaching, etc. Each day he seeks to bridge the gap between police and our youth, through building relationships, and being a positive role model for students.

In his role at South High this year, Fardella has set two major goals. First, he wants to increase membership of school personnel in the Wyoming School Resource Officers Association (WYSROA) and NASRO, the National Association of School Resource Officers. These organizations can provide educators and other school employees the opportunity to network with law enforcement personnel and enhance school safety awareness. Second, Fardella hopes to play an active role in crisis management plans and drills in his school. He states, “How we plan and train is how we will react in the event of an actual situation.”

According to NASRO’s website, The goal of School Resource Officer programs is to “provide safe learning environments, provide valuable resources to school staff members, foster a positive relationship with students and develop strategies to resolve problems that affect our youth with the goal of protecting all children, so they can reach their fullest potential.” A 2012 NASRO report notes a sharp decline in school safety statistics over past two decades, a trend that mirrors the rise of school resource officer programs over that same time period. NASRO takes a strong stand on the importance of police in the schools, stating this: “Educators have a compelling interest in maintaining a safe and effective learning environment as a part of the total strategy of achieving the educational mission. The modern range of foreseeable misconduct by students and others on campus makes a clear relationship with local law enforcement essential.”

The debate over whether or not police belong in schools is not new, but with recent high-profile school shootings on the rise, the debate is trending in many communities across the country. As a result, earlier this month Education Week released a series of articles on Policing America’s Schools. Many schools are working hard to rebuild and redefine the role and the relationship that students have with police officers who work to keep school campuses safe. At Grady High School in Atlanta, for example, school leaders are looking to reboot their relationship with police by hiring their own police officers and training them in adolescent brain development and conflict resolution, the same training that educators participate in.  Atlanta’s school-climate building approach addresses a common concern that too much police presence in schools can lead to mistreatment of routine student misbehavior as criminal misbehavior.

It is a similar story in St. Paul, Minnesota, where school leaders are fighting to build trust with school police officers.  Last year, the school system developed a new memorandum of understanding with the St. Paul police department that outlined the steps that school administrators must take to handle a conflict before police get involved. By training and working together, St. Paul’s schools are on the road to a better, safer tomorrow.

At South High School in Cheyenne, Fardella understands that developing trust with school staff and students is critical to being successful in this law enforcement specialty. He has some tools on how school resource officers could approach this.

1.      Get Involved With Students: An SRO must be engaged and visible as much as possible. For some students, the SRO is one of the few trusted people they can turn to in time of need for assistance, whether it is a school-related matter, or a family/personal matter. Fardella stated “engaging with students is critical, and this can be done in different ways. It is one thing to be in the school, but it is another to be involved in a school.”  Participating in school spirit week,  being involved in school assemblies, attending sports events, attending music concerts, attending speech and debate events, attending Honor Society Inductions, sitting down in the cafeteria conversing with students, and even doing the cupid shuffle at school dances, are all ways to engage with students. If students see you involved in their activities, it shows that you care about them, and in return, students will reciprocate that appreciation back to you, as their SRO.

2.       Share Your Passions and Interests With Students: In each of his six years as an SRO, Officer Fardella has brought his rich spirit and tradition of New England sports into the school setting. In fact, his office at South High School has a New England sports theme! The staff and students engage in a great rival at his school, especially between Fardella’s New England Patriots, and his students’ Denver Broncos. Whether it’s wearing jerseys before an upcoming game, talking friendly debate about each other’s teams, or Fardella hanging a Patriots flag outside the school on the flagpole, this friendly rivalry has been a way several students have connected with Fardella in a positive setting, thus another way to build relationships with staff and students within the school.

3.      Have a Strong Social Media Presence: Fardella also has an SRO Facebook page where parents and students can connect with him. He posts current information about school events, student achievements, and other school-related material that may be valuable to the school community.  

This article was written originally for MultiBriefs Education


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