School policing is taking on a new role in Round Rock ISD as district leaders target behavioral health and equity

4 principles of innovative school policing


School policing is taking on a new role in Round Rock ISD as district leaders target behavioral health, safety, and equity

Our department doesn’t use drug K-9s. Instead, we have a therapy dog that is used to help calm students in crisis so that they can get the services that they need. Our approach prevents students in crisis from having to deal with police as the primary response, which could at times make the situation worse. We mitigate all situations that might cause student actions to be viewed as criminal–especially during a crisis when the student might not be fully cognizant of their actions.

Our goal is to provide the appropriate resources to our students and to not add to the historical disproportionality and systemic issues in law enforcement that have negatively impacted students of color, LGBTQIA+, special need students, and other students in the most marginalized student populations.

Equity

The Equity Pillar refers to the equity work of Dewayne Street, our district’s Chief Equity Officer, whom our department uses as a valuable resource to provide training and recommendations. Every decision in our police department is viewed through an equity lens. Our goal is to make sure every student has a fair and equitable chance to succeed. We recognize that every student is different and that they have different needs. Officers and social workers are trained to recognize and identify what those needs are so that we can help to allocate the proper resources to meet those needs. We interviewed an officer for our department and one of the questions asked focused on the difference between equality and equity. The officer responded, “Equality is giving every student a pair of shoes. Equity is giving every student a pair of shoes that fits.” The response aligned with exactly what the Round Rock ISD Police Department looks for in our officers. Understanding that meeting student needs is more valuable than simply providing them with a resource or service.

Our work with the Equity Officer ensures that systemic issues and actions that historically produced negative outcomes for so many students of color and marginalized groups do not occur in the practices and mindset of the Round Rock ISD police.

Safety and Security

The Safety & Security Pillar refers to the internal and external building hardening steps, as well as safety drills designed to improve safety. Additionally, it refers to the advanced training that our officers receive in threat mitigation, active shooter response, mental health first aid, Trust Based Relational Intervention, LGBTQIA+, restorative practices, equity and inclusion, and other training opportunities that far exceed state requirements.

Student safety is so much more than protecting students from critical incidents. The purpose of the intense training within our department is based on a holistic approach to serving our students. We realize that no police academy in the country prepares officers to specifically police schools. To the contrary, officers are provided the basic training to understand laws, to detect and deter crime, and to stay alive. When officers are assigned to patrol, they typically go from call to call and deal with people during times of high stress and crisis. When officers are assigned to minority neighborhoods, their view and perspectives of people of color often become skewed due to the reactive and not proactive functions of policing.

When school districts hire officers to serve as SROs instead of starting their own departments, they must rely on the training and experiences of officers provided. Unfortunately, the training, experience, and often the quality of the officer is not the best fit for school districts. I say this because students typically have immature and developing minds that cause them to engage in behavior that triggers aggressive reactions from street officers because it is how they were trained to respond to certain words and actions from citizens (students). The Round Rock ISD Police Department recognizes this and created a training design under the Safety & Security Pillar that is unique to school-based law enforcement and all student populations.

Student Advocacy

The Student Advocacy Pillar refers to the mission, vision, and goals of our department. This pillar requires every officer to advocate on behalf of our students. Instead of relying on the criminal justice system to address negative behavior, we worked with the juvenile justice system and the district attorney’s offices to establish alternative solutions and resources that allow us to help students during challenging situations without arresting them. For example, with minor drug offenses or drug possession cases, our practice is not to arrest but to identify the most effective resource to help the student. Round Rock ISD police officers recognize that students engaging in drug use is often a manifestation of an underlying issue that can lead to drug use. For example, it could be self-medication or an issue in their homelife causing them to turn to drug use as a coping mechanism. As I say during my many presentations on this topic, “You can catch the wolf that’s been killing your chickens and lock it up in a cage. That solves your problem, but it doesn’t help the wolf.” My point with that is obvious. Arresting students gets them out of the school environment and keeps them from creating disruption or challenging situations, but it doesn’t help them.

Our goal as officers is to not criminalize social, emotional, behavioral, mental, adolescent, immature, juvenile, or reckless behavior that students experience and engage in, because it will impact them for the rest of their lives. Furthermore, statistics show that it can increase their likelihood of reoffending and going from school into the criminal justice system (school to prison pipeline). Criminalizing student behaviors negatively impacts struggling families and the numbers are extremely high when it comes to students of color and marginalized student groups.

We feel that the work we’ve done in Round Rock ISD and the case studies provide a tremendous resource to school districts around the country that will transform their school policing methods and tremendously increase student outcomes and long-term success.

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