Removing resource officers

APS’ decision to remove resource officers from schools creates controversy in the community.


Courtesy of Ariel Gill-Ehrenreich

Student resource officers (SROs) have been a matter of controversy for the past year in light of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Movements like Black Lives Matter have brought more widespread recognition to the disproportionate violence by police toward minorities in the past year. In response, the Arlington Public Schools (APS) community began to vie  for the riddance of these sometimes intimidating figures from a place that should be considered a safe zone for youth. On June 24, the Arlington County School Board responded to the social and political climate of the time by voting unanimously to remove school resource officers (SROs) from the schools. 

There was much debate beforehand. Several “work group” discussions were held over Microsoft Teams in the weeks leading up to the School Board’s decision of whether or not this would be the most beneficial thing for the community, though the conversation had been ongoing since January 13 when the first community engagement session was held. The meetings were attended by resource officers, school officials and concerned students and parents. One particular advocate to get rid of the officers was Superintendent Dr. Francisco Durán. 

“The decision to relocate SROs… is not to diminish the longstanding partnership that we have with [Arlington County Police Department (ACPD)] but instead to focus on increasing student support by effectively utilizing the support structures we have in place,” Durán said during a school board meeting on the subject. 

Most of those on the side of Durán echoed his sentiments. The common thought was that the resource officers offered little to the school environment other than an air of worry a constant reminder of the potential for danger. Instead, it was proposed that the $3 million funding that has been put into the Arlington County SRO program could instead go toward mental health programs for students. 

“We need to beef up the mental health resources for our students, so we can ensure that any student in crisis has the resources they need and they never have to interact with an SRO or the criminal-legal system at all,” Board Member Cristina Diaz-Torres said during a meeting. 

Several students also wanted to end the “school-to-prison pipeline” they believe to be racially disproportionate and created a petition last year in an attempt to remove SROs, which was a main contributing factor to the new policy. 

“Most of the pushback we have gotten is from white students that can’t see past their privilege and personal lived experiences,” senior and activist Rosie Couture told Crossed Sabres reporter Ella Cohen in January 2021.

Another concern was that having an armed person in a school is in itself a danger, something unnecessary for keeping schools safe. During the first community engagement session held on January 13, high school student in APS, Benjamin Gold, shared survey results to the question “Do you think the School Resource Officer should be armed?” The results show that the student body was rather split on the matter. 31.9% answered yes, 43.4% answered maybe, and 24.8% answered no. The survey consisted of 1349 total responses from students within APS, 73.5% middle schoolers and 26.5% high schoolers. 

Instead of resource officers in schools, APS plans to relocate them, though it is not clear where they would be. After reaching out to the ACPD for comment on the decision, they replied quickly with information about the new role officers will play in the school system.

 “Over the next few months, APS and ACPD will collaborate to develop a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to redefine and reimagine the relationship between the two organizations,” Ashley Savage, Public Information Officer for the ACPD, said.

According to the APS website, the MOU development work began  on August 30​.

Though many are pleased with the definitive change, as reflected by the unanimous decision made by the school board, there are still some who feel it was the wrong decision. 

“It’s better to have it (SROs) and not need it, than need it (SROs) and not have it,” user “iboard” commented two months ago on ARLNow’s article from June 7 explaining the policy. 

Most of the comments on the article and other articles on the decision were to the same effect. There are many outraged community members, namely parents, who feel that a school without a resource officer is a disaster waiting to happen — or a disaster that already has. 

On August 2 there was a large fight at Yorktown High School during the county  summer school program. The incident took place only a month after the removal of SROs. Several students suffered minor injuries, something which some people in the community believe could have been prevented had an officer already been at the site. 

“Too bad there were no SROs to de-escalate the situation before it got violent,”  user “Frieda” commented on ArlNow’s article from August 3 that reported on the incident. 

Whether this will lead to a reconsideration by the School Board is still up in the air, though it is unlikely. The climate at the moment seems to be one of imitation. Currently Montgomery County is debating the matter, with many leaders encouraging the removal of SROs. 

In the meantime, while the dust is settling, ACPD is doing what it can to be an asset to the schools, if from a distance. 

While Arlington County Police Officers will not be in the schools this year, we remain fully committed to being actively engaged with Arlington’s youth,” Savage said. “Incidents can be reported for investigation by calling the Emergency Communications Center at 703-558-2222 or 9-1-1 in an emergency.”