This study examined the impacts of implementing school resource officers (SROs) on outcomes related to school climate and suspension rates, with attention to racial differences in these effects and the role of school context, as well as how SROs perceive their roles and responsibilities and how these may be shaped by school contexts.
The study relied on both quantitative and qualitative data from a single large school district in the Midwest. The quantitative data relied on district administrative records from years 1999-2000 through 2015-16 school years related to 1) SRO implementation dates, 2) school climate survey data, 3) annual school suspension rates, and 4) measures of school context , including school size, racial composition, and poverty rates. Quantitative data came from individuals employed as SROs. Qualitative data analyses consisted of multiple rounds of open and axial coding to facilitate the identification of multiple themes related to SROs’ roles and perceptions of their school environment. The data analyses showed that implementing SROs had mixed relationships with school climate. These relationships depended on the dimensions of school climate that were measured, the race of the respondents, and measures of school context. In addition, implementing SROs was associated with decreases in suspension rates of White students, but not overall suspension rates, suspension rates of Black students, or Black-White racial disparities in suspension rates. The qualitative findings indicated that SROs’ roles and activities were largely motivated by three overarching themes, i.e., being unpredictable, maintaining a presence, and building rapport. Qualitative analyses found that SROs perceived the students themselves as the main threat to their school, and to a lesser extent were concerned about intruders and environment-based threats.