Role of SROs comes under scrutiny


SRO Rob Woyicki interacts with senior Isaiah Jones (left) and other students during a lunch period March 28. One of the benefits of having a school resource officer has been cited in creating a positive relationship between students and police.

Suzanne Blake, Nick Fekaris, Mayla Gilliam, Editor-in-Chief, Assistant Editor, Managing Editor

With recent controversy and rising tensions, the presence of school resource officers (SROs) is now being questioned.

A video displaying a Rolesville High SRO slamming a student to the ground using seemingly excessive force, went viral Jan. 3. As national conversations increase surrounding police brutality in general, a debate was sparked over whether or not SROs should be in schools.

SRO Rob Woyicki feels his role is beneficial to the well-being of a school environment.

“There are a lot of benefits of having me around. We handle, first and foremost, the protection of lives and property. That’s the responsibility we have,” Woyicki said. “Of course, any police officer has that responsibility. Here, inside the school you have pretty much a small town inside the town, and anything that happens out there can happen in here, so we react to calls of assistance not only criminal but medical.”

Some believe that SROs can have a negative effect if their power is misused and their role misinterpreted.

“If the role of the SRO is not clearly defined, you could have miscommunication between the school administration and local law enforcement. If guidelines aren’t followed then students’ due process may be compromised, and consequences may not be held up on appeal,” Law and Justice teacher Robbin Faulkner said.

For Principal Patti Hamler, the way to prevent these instances of excessive force is in successful communication between the SRO and administrators.

“If at anytime there is a concern, there needs to be a conversation,” Hamler said. “If this can not be handled with the SRO, then his superior needs to be invited to have that conversation with the school and WCPSS Security.”
Students have diverse views on the role of SROs.

“Every school should have one,” sophomore Alexandra Flach said. “They keep everything going as they should, and they, as well as administrators, work together to keep it secure, and they always do an excellent job with what they do.”

The pros of having SROs are several to junior Rosa Padilla.

“The benefits of having SROs at school are that they can potentially create a safer environment for the community or school environment,” Padilla said. “It would allow teachers, parents and students to feel safer knowing that there is someone on campus for protection in an emergency.”

Others feel that the high school setting is not an appropriate place for police to be present.

“I feel that there may be a threat that they may not be trained to handle, which could lead to dramatic and very bad things,” junior Longondo Eteni said.

Junior Tim Mallo believes that SRO officers should be instated in schools where security is a threat.

“I think they should be in schools with a high crime rate. It makes no sense for us to be paying for an officer who is not really doing anything on campus,” Mallo said.

However, there are some benefits besides security.

“I think having officers at school is very important because they can save our lives from crazy people, discipline teenagers and give you nice information about the law and rights,” senior Viktoriya Knachaturova said.

Hamler agrees that the relationship between students and SROs is vital, along with safety as an utmost priority.

“There needs to be a student and staff sense of feeling safe at all times.  There are instances where a student could have a controlled substance or a weapon and police need to be called,” Hamler said. “If one is on campus, the situation is handled more quickly and precise. Having an opportunity to work with a resource officer daily gives you an opportunity to forge a working relationship.”

Organizations such as the NAACP have argued that police officers in schools contribute to higher suspensions and often lead to normal student behavior being criminalized.

Although contacted repeatedly, NAACP officials did not return requests for interviews.

But another group was quoted in a Jan.17 article “Activists want police officers out of Wake County public schools” appearing in the News and Observer and addressed the organization’s concern that infractions previously handled by school counselors and administrators now find their way into the criminal justice system.

“We don’t want those individuals who have the power to arrest and to interrogate the students in the school buildings,” said Fernando Martinez, a community organizer with the Education Justice Alliance. “We want the school district to invest in what we call peace builders. We want them to invest in school counselors.”

The Education Justice Alliance is a non-partisan organization based in Wake County that works to reduce the impact of unfair punishments and academic failure on students.

With cases where excessive force is suspected, even more skepticism over school police officers and police officers in general has arisen.

“If a cop like those gets ridiculed and made fun of, they could have a breaking point. They have a lot of responsibility and can go overboard even if they have the basic training,” senior Seth Penna said.

Woyicki reaffirms that despite the questionable actions of a few, police officers overall work for the good of society.

“The way the culture is in their attitude towards police, I don’t really understand because there are hundreds of thousands of contacts that officers have with everyday citizens. I’m in here every single day dealing with people, and we’ve had felony crimes and we’ve had misdemeanor crimes that we’ve had here, and I can’t document one use of force that I have done, so out of all those contacts that I have every single day with 2000 kids here at school, there hasn’t been one use of force or even an exaggerated use of force,” Woyicki said. “So over time, you’re looking at hundreds of thousands, even millions of contacts, and we’re looking at maybe one to ten incidents that have really been publicized that brought bad light to us. I don’t know how that’s fair.”

Mayor Vivian Jones is undecided on whether SROs should be in schools. However, Jones maintains that responsible SROs are present in local schools.

Jones said, “Whenever there has been an incident in Wake Forest involving one of our officers, similar to the one at Rolesville High School, I have tried to understand exactly what happened and not make snap judgements. I know the student resource officers who work at Wake Forest High School and Heritage High School to be quality individuals who conduct themselves in a professional manner, so I am confident they do not make decisions based on personal bias.”