Individuals – Gottfredson et al. (2020)

Study Reference:

Gottfredson, D. C., Crosse, S., Tang, Z., Bauer, E. L., Harmon, M. A., Hagen, C. A., & Greene, A. D. (2020). Effects of school resource officers on school crime and responses to school crime. Criminology & Public Policy, 19(3), 905–940.

Location in the Matrix; Methodological Rigor; Outcome:

Individuals; General, Proactive; Rigorous; Backfire Effect

What police practice or strategy was examined?

In 2013-2014, the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Hiring Program gave grants to several law enforcement agencies in California to support increasing school resource officers (SROs) in schools. SROs are generally law enforcement officers who are deployed in schools and carry out several safety-related functions (which can vary across schools). This study evaluated the effects of that increase of SROs and their hours worked in schools on disciplinary offenses and actions across 33 public middle and high schools in California.

How was the intervention evaluated?

Treatment schools were identified and selected based on three criteria: the highest grade level was greater than 6th grade, SRO hours increased due to the funding, and SRO staffing levels were at least eight hours per week after that increase. These schools were compared with schools matched on prior disciplinary actions and demographic characteristics but that did not have increases in SRO staffing levels and hours. Treatment and comparison groups were evaluated using a pre-and-posttest comparison group design at 11- and 20 months post-intervention. An interrupted time series analysis with comparison series was used to examine changes in outcomes) in the two or three months coinciding with the intervention. The comparison series data was obtained from a geographic area that did not experience the intervention. Outcomes measured were based on administrative and self-reported data. Administrative data measured monthly counts of disciplinary offenses and actions, including the total offenses, more and less severe offenses, types of offenses, expulsions, and out-of-school suspensions. The implementation was further evaluated using two measures- SROs approach and SRO hours. The SRO approach encompassed the percentage of time SRO spent doing activities related to law enforcement and order maintenance, while SRO hours measured the number of SRO hours per week per 100 students at the treatment schools.  Self-reported data from local law enforcement agencies, school administrators, and SROs measured counts of (1) security practices, (2) prevention program components related to school safety, (3) non-SRO law enforcement officer hours per week, and (4) security guard/other security personnel hours per week.

What were the key findings?

For students without special needs, there was an increase in drug and weapon-related offenses in treatment schools at 11 and 20 months post-intervention but a decrease in such incidents in comparison schools. These findings were not found in the sample of special needs students. Immediately following the intervention, exclusionary actions (i.e., expulsions, out-of-school suspension) in both treatment and comparison schools increased. However, 11 months following the intervention, both treatment and comparison schools had decreases in exclusionary actions, though there was a larger decrease in comparison schools. For weapon-related offenses, increase in SRO time spent on law enforcement related activities is related to increases in the number of student offenses. However, for less severe offenses, as the percentage of SRO time spent on law-enforcement activities increased, the number of offenses decreased for students with special needs. For less severe and crime against property offenses, results indicate that as the number of SRO hours per week per 100 students increases, so do the number of offenses reported for students without special needs.

What were the implications for law enforcement?

The authors did not examine what mechanisms may have led to increases in reported offenses. However, they note that discussions with SROs and school administrators indicate the presence of SROs may lead to increased reporting of crimes. The authors note that in this way, SRO presence in schools may contribute to the “school-to-prison pipeline.” The suggest that educational decision-makers should weigh the benefits of placing SROs in schools against this possibility, perhaps limiting increasing SRO presence to the most violent schools and monitoring and controlling exactly what SROs are responsible for in schools. They also point out that SROs did not result in a decrease in school-related crimes, and that effects of increased crime and exclusionary actions persisted even after 20 months.

Where can I find more information about this intervention, similar types of intervention, or related studies?