School police officers study school shootings nationwide in the wake of Uvalde, hoping to do better.

In 2018, the armed school police officer monitoring Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, waited outside while Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people. The officer, former Broward County Deputy Scot Peterson, was charged with criminal negligence. His trial is ongoing, and has been reset for complications with overlapping trials. He has been charged with 11 counts, including child neglect, culpable negligence, and perjury. His defense argues that he did not have a duty of care towards the students.

In 2019, a school security guard who was illegally armed accidentally wounded two students. Police response treated the evacuated elementary school students as suspects in the shooting, forcing them to line up with their hands on their head. Authorities have testified that the responding officers knew the shooter was not a child.

The National Association of School Resource Officers held a conference in Colorado and school police officers from all over the country gathered to hear seminars on these and other cases, and hopefully to learn how not to repeat these mistakes.

An exhibit hall at the conference featured businesses selling ideas and inventions to protect students – wedge-in door locks, classroom safe-rooms, mobile barricades. In perhaps an extremely tone-deaf example, one business advertised a folding semi-automatic rifle. They bragged about a school resource officer who carries his to school in a Hello Kitty backpack, but had no comment on what would prevent a student from doing the same. Instead, they said the weapon has ‘got to be there,’ meaning in school.

The conference and the officers who attend it likely mean well, but there are many who feel that ‘school police officers’ shouldn’t exist, and that their role could be better performed by social workers, therapists, and better-prepared teachers. But training officers to be more community-minded, more focused on building connections with students over controlling or disciplining them, could be a safer middle ground.

Photo: Kate Way / Shutterstock

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