In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section School Policing

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Implementation of School-Based Policing Programs
  • Roles of School-Based Officers
  • Responses to Crime and Student Behavior
  • School-Based Policing and the School-to-Prison Pipeline
  • Impacts of School-Based Policing Programs on Crime and Violence
  • Impacts of School-Based Policing Programs on Perceptions and Other Outcomes
  • International Studies of School Policing

Criminology School Policing
Joseph M. McKenna, Kathy E. Martinez-Prather
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0253


Over the past several decades, across the nation, the use of full-time law enforcement in K–12 schools has continued to increase as a mechanism to address crime and violence as well as to improve the overall safety of these environments. Since the first documented occurrence of a full-time officer assigned to a school in the 1950s, federal funding and tragic events, such as the Columbine High School shooting, have increased dramatically the numbers of law enforcement officers in schools across the country. This rapid increase has led practitioners and researchers to search for efficient and productive ways to implement school policing programs and ultimately merge the education and law enforcement culture. Key aspects regarding the implementation of school policing programs include the following: obtaining stakeholder buy-in, developing formal agreements, establishing roles and duties, and training officers for support work in a school setting. Additionally, understanding the roles of officers in the school setting, and the types of duties they should perform, has received considerable attention, with the conclusion that officers in this environment have a more expansive and diverse role when compared to traditional policing. Roles for officers in schools have traditionally aligned with the “triad concept” (law enforcer, counselor, and educator); however, recent work has shown that these roles continue to expand beyond this model. Determining how best to implement these programs and what roles officers should have in this environment has also led researchers to examine further the way in which officers respond to specific types of student misconduct in schools—more specifically, the connection between using law enforcement and the “school-to-prison” pipeline. Work in this area of school policing has focused on identifying any potential negative impacts of using police in a school setting and any long-term consequences for students. Although understanding these contextual factors and associations is important, researchers in this field have generally moved toward trying to identify the best way to gauge “effectiveness” of school policing programs. Ultimately, these programs are implemented with the intention to improve student and school outcomes and overall safety of the school; therefore, the ability to assess effectiveness is critical. Despite some progress toward measuring effectiveness, many questions remain unanswered, specifically, what outcome measures should be used to assess effectiveness of school police? Beyond these questions, past studies have suffered from a lack of methodological rigor, which has resulted in many concluding that there is no consensus on “what works” as it relates to school policing.

General Overviews

In an overview of school policing programs in the United States, United Kingdom, and North Korea, Brown 2006 describes the various roles of school police officers (e.g., law enforcement officer, educator, and mentor) and the implications surrounding a student’s legal rights, as well as the lack of rigorous evaluations of school policing programs. In a report to congressional leaders, James and McCallion 2013 highlights the prevalence of school policing and the history of federal funding provided for school policing programs. These authors recommend that Congress consider funding for alternative methods to keep schools safe given the lack of research to assess the effectiveness of school policing programs. A meta-analysis of prior research examining the relationship between various types of safety measures and school delinquency and perceived safety can be found in Reingle González, et al. 2016. Findings from a study examining the factors that affect students’ comfort level with reporting crimes and perceptions of safety can be found in McDevitt and Panniello 2005. Kupchik 2010 discusses the implications for increased policies related to punitive school discipline practices. Musu-Gillette, et al. 2017 presents in an annual report how the presence of school-based police differs on several contextual factors, including grade level, enrollment, type of school (public or private), and location (rural or urban). Findings related to differential exposure to security measures across elementary, middle, and high schools can be found in Kupchik and Ward 2014. Raymond 2010 provides a guide on various methods for measuring the program effectiveness of a school policing program.

  • Brown, B. 2006. Understanding and assessing school police officers: A conceptual and methodological comment. Journal of Criminal Justice 34:591–604.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2006.09.013

    An overview of the origins and expansion of school policing programs in the United States, United Kingdom, and South Korea. The author discusses the multifaceted role of school police officers, which can create an overload of responsibility and an overly punitive educational setting. Brown also suggests more research is needed to evaluate the impact of school policing programs.

  • James, N., and G. McCallion. 2013. School resource officers: Law enforcement officers in schools. CRS Report for Congress R43126. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.

    A report examining the use of policing in schools related to their roles and prevalence and the lack of rigorous randomized control designs to examine the impact of school policing. The author recommends Congress re-evaluate its process for determining the allocation for funding to hire school police and consider the potential negative impact that school policing could have on the educational environment.

  • Kupchik, A. 2010. Homeroom security. New York: New York Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9780814748206.001.0001

    Kupchick discusses the increase in punitive school discipline practices and the negative impact on student outcomes. Based on field research, the author argues that the use of zero-tolerance policies are counterproductive to reducing student misbehavior and only serve to impact the students most at risk. A critical review of discipline practices is recommended.

  • Kupchik, A., and G. Ward. 2014. Race, poverty, and exclusionary school security: An empirical analysis of U.S. elementary, middle, and high schools. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice 12.4: 332–354.

    DOI: 10.1177/1541204013503890

    An examination of differential exposure to security measures across elementary, middle, and high schools. Overall findings suggest that exclusionary-type security measures are more prevalent across all grade levels with a high population of minority and low-socioeconomic students. Specifically related to security personnel, school police generally are found in elementary and middle schools with a higher attendance of lower socioeconomic students.

  • McDevitt, J., and J. Panniello. 2005. National assessment of school resource officer programs: Survey of students in three large new SRO programs. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice Department.

    A report focusing on factors in a school resource officer (SRO) program that affect students’ comfort level with reporting crimes and perceptions of safety. Overall, students with a positive opinion of the SRO program had a significant impact on these outcomes. Findings suggest students with a positive opinion about the SRO felt more comfortable in reporting crimes. Regarding perceptions of safety, most students who had a positive opinion of the SRO reported feeling safer at school.

  • Musu-Gillette, L., A. Zhang, K. Wang, J. Zhang, and B. A. Oudekerk. 2017. Indicators of school crime and safety: 2016. NCES 2017-064/NCJ 250650. Washington, DC: Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, and Bureau of Justice Statistics.

    This annual report collects data from numerous different sources and examines areas such as victimization, bullying, fights, weapons, the presence of security staff (including law enforcement), drug and alcohol use, perceptions of safety, and criminal incidents at school. The report delineates the presence of school police based on several contextual factors, including grade level, enrollment, type of school (public or private), and location (rural or urban).

  • Raymond, B. 2010. Assigning police officers to schools. Problem-Oriented Guides for Police, Response Guides 10. Washington, DC: Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

    This guide summarizes the typical duties of SROs, synthesizes the research pertaining to their effectiveness, and presents issues for communities to bear in mind when considering the adoption of an SRO model. Despite the increasing popularity of using officers in schools, few systematic evaluations of the effectiveness of SROs exist. The guide identifies the types of data that can be collected in order to measure program effectiveness.

  • Reingle González, J., K. Jetelina, and W. Jennings. 2016. Structural school safety measures, SROs, and school-related delinquent behavior and perception of safety: A state-of-the-art review. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management 39.3: 438–454.

    DOI: 10.1108/PIJPSM-05-2016-0065

    A meta-analysis of prior literature examining the relationship between school safety measures (e.g., metal detectors, cameras, access control, and SROs) and school delinquency and perceived safety in primary and secondary school settings. The findings suggested that visible security measures reduced students’ perception of safety overall. The impact of SROs on perceived safety and school discipline was found to be inconclusive and attributed to a lack of rigorous randomized control trials.

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