Separating School Discipline from Crime in Partnering with Law Enforcement

J. Marlene Pardue is the commander of the West Police Precinct in the Metro Nashville Police Department in Tennessee.

In the Nashville PASSAGE Law Enforcement Committee, we specifically addressed what changes were needed within the school resource officer (SRO) program. Over the course of our meetings, it became overwhelmingly clear that communication between the officers and the administrative staff of the school where they were assigned was going to be the key issue.

Surprisingly, while addressing disproportionate discipline was the guiding issue for our group, the topic rarely came up in our committee. This was not because we were afraid to address it, or because anyone was uncomfortable talking about the issue, but because there were other issues that seemed more compelling and in need of resolution. The majority of our discussions centered on the principal’s expectations of the SRO as opposed to the requirements from the police department for the position. We realized that identifying discipline as something different than a criminal issue is essential for our schools and SROs to have a successful relationship. Understanding the responsibilities of both school staff and law enforcement will help to create a strong support system within our schools.

Listening to one of the experienced SROs on our committee talk about how engaged he is with his school, and the many occasions he receives calls from parents for help, even after a child is no longer in his school, was surprising to many committee members. As we talked about his role in his school, it became apparent that others on the committee did not have similar experiences with the officers in their schools. Officers, like principals, are a diverse group with different personalities, interests, and backgrounds. We realized how important it is to find a way to select officers who are the best fit for work in a daily school environment. Training these officers on how to be successful will be essential as we move forward in our process.