Micro Places – Devlin & Gottfredson (2018)

Study Reference:

Devlin, D. N., & Gottfredson, D. C. (2018). The roles of police officers in schools: Effects on the recording and reporting of crime. Youth violence and Juvenile Justice16(2), 208-223.

Location in the Matrix; Methodological Rigor; Outcome:

Micro places; General; Proactive; Moderately rigorous; Backfire effect

What police practice or strategy was examined?

This study evaluated the effect of school resource officers (SRO) on crime across 480 elementary and secondary public schools. Specifically, the study looked at the effect of SROs in different roles, including SROs in law-enforcement-only roles (patrol, investigations, drug and weapon sweeps, making arrests) and SROs in mixed roles (performing law enforcement duties while also acting as counselors, mentors, or teachers).

How was the intervention evaluated?

Using a national sample of schools followed over multiple school years, schools that reported having an SRO were compared with schools that did not on measures of reported and recorded nonserious violence, property crime, and serious/weapon/drug offenses for the year following SRO deployment. Specifically, school administrators were asked to provide both the number of crimes that the school recorded and the number of crimes the school reported to the police each year. Researchers classified schools into high or low-reporting groups, and regression models were used to control for pre-existing crime levels and other factors (such as total enrollment, student-teacher ratio, gender composition, school type, etc.) that might affect the current level of recorded or reported crime. Additionally, these measures were compared between schools that reported having SROs in law-enforcement-only roles and schools that reported having SROs in mixed roles.

What were the key findings?

Schools with SROs in any role recorded a higher rate of property crime (27%) and serious/weapon/drug crimes (57%) than schools without SROs. Schools with SROs were also 2.8 and 1.7 times more likely to be in the high reporting group for nonserious violence and property crimes, respectively. Schools with law-enforcement-only SROs were associated with a statistically significant 23% higher rate of recorded serious/weapon/drug crimes than schools with mixed SROs, but schools with mixed SROs were more likely to report nonserious violence and property crimes than schools with law-enforcement-only SROs.

What were the implications for law enforcement?

The authors suggest that SROs may have a net-widening effect, such that they increase the number of youth processed by the criminal justice system. It is unclear why SROs may have this effect, though the authors suggest that increases in detection, decreased legitimacy, or feelings of an unsafe environment are all potential explanations. In other words, SROs may increase crime, crime detection, or both, but these mechanisms are not directly testable in the current study. Thus, the only clear takeaway concerns the lack of evidence connecting SROs to any significant crime reduction effect.

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