Durham County

Durham Public Schools decision to rename police at 5 schools ‘School Resource Officers’ raises concern

Beginning this school year, police officers who work at four Durham Public Schools’ middle schools and the Durham School of the Arts will be called School Resource Officers.
Beginning this school year, police officers who work at four Durham Public Schools’ middle schools and the Durham School of the Arts will be called School Resource Officers.

In a change from a year ago, the police officers who work at four Durham Public Schools’ middle schools and the Durham School of the Arts will be called School Resource Officers.

Last year, Rogers-Herr, Shephard, Brogden, Lakewood Montessori middle schools and DSA were staffed by Durham police officers who taught the Gang Resistance Education and Training curriculum and were called GREAT, officers even though they performed many of the same duties as traditional School Resource Officers (SROs) under an agreement between DPS and the Police Department.

“They were already doing what our SROs are doing,” said Tina Ingram, the school district’s director of security.

In addition to the name change, the officers at the five schools will no longer teach the GREAT curriculum.

DPS and police officials are in talks about what might replace the GREAT curriculum, which will continue to be taught by SROs provided by sheriff’s deputies who work in 19 elementary schools and middle schools.

Ingram said the change in name at the five schools served by police officers was made to better reflect the job the officers already perform at each school, which includes traffic control, addressing safety concerns and supporting students and school staff.

The SROs will be provided to DPS at no cost over the next 12 months, but police officials said that may change in the future.

“This is a 12-month arrangement that we hope will provide DPD visibility in the schools – as well as help maintain a safe, positive and secure learning environment,” DPD spokesman Wil Glenn said.

Officers have served the schools for more than 15 years, but Ingram said there seems to be a misunderstanding in the community, which has led some people to believe the program is new.

City Councilwoman Jillian Johnson posted a warning on her Facebook page that students are much more likely to be arrested and/or charged with a crime when an SRO is on campus.

“There is little evidence that having police officers in schools improves student outcomes, but there is ample evidence that the criminalization of youth in schools leads to students being charged with crimes for incidents that should be seen as normal misbehavior,” Johnson wrote.

In an interview Monday, Johnson said she was not aware the police officers at the five schools were already working as SROs.

On her Facebook page, Johnson also questioned city and DPS administrators making the change without “formal discussion or a vote by either the City Council or the Board of Education.”

“Though it was within the rights of the city and DPS administration to make this decision without bringing it to the elected boards, I believe that this issue is important enough to merit a larger conversation in the community,” she said.

She said Police Chief Cerelyn Davis will be available at Thursday’s City Council work session to provide more information and answer questions.

In an interview Monday, school board Chairman Mike Lee said students and staff shouldn’t see much change in the name shift to SROs.

“Not much is going to be different as far as how kids are treated and how the officers are trained,” Lee said. “They are there because safety is our No. 1 priority and to build relationships with students and our staffs.”

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645

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