NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — This legislative session, one lawmaker is seeking to grant authority to School Security Officers to use manual restraints—or handcuffs—on students with special needs.
But what is a School Security Officer, and how does it differ from a School Resource Officer?
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According to Lt. Rudy Perez, President of the National Association of School Resource Officers, the two positions serve similar roles in schools across the country but differ on one thing: the training required.
Perez works with the Los Angeles School Police Department, which provides both School Resource Officers and School Safety Officers in the Los Angeles County school system.
According to him, while SROs are sworn law enforcement officers with extensive training requirements, SSOs don’t require the same amount of training.
“Your School Safety Officer is usually more of a quasi-security guard in an observe-and-report kind of process,” he told News 2. “A School Resource Officer is someone who is properly trained, properly selected and properly equipped when it comes down to working in the education environment.”
According to Brian Blackley with the Tennessee Department of Education, state statute defines both School Resource Officers and School Security Officers. Importantly, both are “trained law enforcement officers,” but only SROs are “duly sworn and authorized” law enforcement officers, per statute.
T.C.A. 49-6-4206 defines a School Security Officer as:
“An individual who is employed exclusively by the local school board or LEA for the purpose of maintaining order and discipline, preventing crime, investigating violations of school board policies, returning students who may be in violation of the law, school board, or LEA policies to school property or to a school sponsored event until the officer can place the student into custody of the school administrator or the administrator’s designee, the school resource officer, or the appropriate law enforcement officer and ensuring the safety, security, and welfare of all students, faculty, staff and visitors in an assigned school.”
Nationally, Perez said, SROs have more responsibilities than SSOs because of the training requirements. SROs attend long academies that cover a wide range of topics for all officers. In Los Angeles, for instance, SROs attend a six-month academy that includes aspects of mental health, implicit bias, and hands-on defensive tactics training. SSOs, on the other hand, could have as little as a week-long overview with little specialized training.
Both officers, however, can have the ability to physically restrain someone if necessary. SROs are taught proper restraint methods in the academy, but SSOs could also receive special training on manual restraints.
“We’ve seen that before,” he said. “Across the nation, we have officers that are SSOs that have the ability to place someone in handcuffs, and they’re properly trained.”
While SSOs may not have the exact same type and level of training that SROs and other sworn officers receive, they still play a critical role in schools as law enforcement contends with hiring and recruitment struggles.
“It’s important to understand this: You have a resource of law enforcement officers, and we have a big challenge across this nation of recruitment right now,” he said. “Every law enforcement agency right now, for whatever reason that we’ve seen in the past, has a challenge right now in having officers hired. With that, you have to supplement with school safety officers who go with less amounts of training.”
In August, Knox County Schools officials announced it would receive nearly $5 million more in funding for school safety and security, hiring a record number of school security officers in addition to its use of school resource officers. The funding added 22 new positions in the school’s Security Division, and the district said it would focus on veteran recruitment for the positions.
Metro Nashville Public Schools utilizes SROs but also has its own Security Officers who rotate throughout the district, according to MNPS Executive Officer of Communications Sean Braisted. The SROs are employed through the Metro Nashville Police Department and are sworn officers, he told News 2.
No matter which type of officer is employed in the school system, Perez said the goal of restraining a student is to mitigate harm, either to themselves or others.
“The reason that you’re going to restrain somebody is because they’re hurting themselves; they’re hurting others; there’s an uncontrolled amount of violent acts toward somebody,” he said. “There’s times where you just have to hold somebody in place for them not to hurt somebody else, like a teacher or other students. I think it’s important to train those SSOs in that right context. They can be an asset to you, if trained properly. That can ben an extra help for the school and that resource officer.”