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School resource officers help bridge gap between police, community

Calls for change in law enforcement range from those demanding that police departments be virtually disbanded to others insisting on better training for officers and more accountability for the few rogues among them. Common to most reform proposals is that law enforcement personnel be more engaged in constructive relationships with their communities.

But many police officers and sheriffs’ deputies have been doing just that for many years — and, incredibly, some are calling for those initiatives to be abandoned.

Such involvement goes by various names. Perhaps the most recognizable is the resource officer program. In uses police officers whose “beats” are school buildings.

Critics of police presence in schools argue that it intimidates students. Perhaps so, in some situations. Police presence in some schools, often those with records of on-campus violence, sometimes is heavy-handed. Students can be required to pass through metal detectors and have their backpacks searched every morning to ensure they are not bringing weapons to class.

Clearly, law enforcement presence in schools should be as low-key and unobtrusive as possible. Students should not be afraid of police officers.

But in many — probably most — schools with resource officers, their goal is to build relationships with students, not to intimidate them. They serve as disciplinary adjuncts, stepping in only when teachers and principals find themselves overwhelmed by potentially dangerous situations.

More than a few students feel safer when resource officers are present, we suspect.

Like every other aspect of the current debate over law enforcement, this one ought to be discussed. Perhaps some adjustments need to be made in some schools.

But simply wiping the slate clean — eliminating resource officer programs that really do build relationships with communities — would be a foolish, knee-jerk reaction.

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