Increased Police Presence in Atlanta Public Schools Armed Officers Welcome Students Back to Class
By D. Aileen Dodd Contributing Writer | 8/2/2013, 2:15 p.m.
When students return to Atlanta Public Schools Wednesday for the start of the 2013-14 academic year, a new police force will be on duty making campuses safer.
The Board of Education will spend $10.1 million to add school resource officers to the safety net of law enforcement watching over Atlanta Public Schools. The SROs, sworn police officers specially trained to interact with kids, will become familiar faces patrolling the hallways and grounds of middle and high schools.
They will carry guns, but will also be armed with strategies to diffuse conflicts between kids without resorting to violence or making arrests. The officers were handpicked from the ranks of the Atlanta Police Department to work full-time to protect students and faculty.
“We are picking people for their work ethic and their personalities,” said Maj. Keith Meadows, a veteran commanding officer who will oversee the SRO Program . “We are looking for people that have the ability to talk to kids. What we don’t want to do is to create a police state within the schools.”
APS joins the network of school districts in metro Atlanta that already have the SRO Program including Gwinnett, Cobb, DeKalb, and Fulton County Schools, which employ scores of the specially-trained officers.
The SRO Program nationally dates back to the 1950s and is currently the fastest growing segment of law enforcement, according to the National Association for School Resource Officers (NASRO).
The popularity of the school police program spiked after the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High in Littleton, Colo., which left 13 people dead. Following that incident, more than $905 million in federal funds were spent by the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) In Schools Program to add sworn police officers to schools.
Last year’s shooting that left 20 elementary school students and six teachers dead in Newtown, Connecticut prompted the National Rifle Association to advise schools across the country to employ armed guards to keep campuses safe.
More than one-third of the nation’s public schools have armed security staff, though not all receive training to be SROs. Before APS launched the SRO Program, it used mostly part-time Atlanta Police officers and sheriff’s deputies to respond to school incidents.
“School resource officers are very much more than an armed security presence,” said Mo Canady, NASRO executive director. “They are fully integrated into the fabric of the school environment and any school would benefit from having one.”
APS will add between 25 to 47 SROs trained by NASRO in the first wave of the program and eventually grow the ranks of full-time officers on campuses to 73. One of the school unit’s main tasks will be interacting with students and encouraging them to resolve disagreements without fighting.
“We are asking officers to be mentors and counselors so that they can talk to kids and make them understand that there are other ways to express yourself without resorting to violence,” said Meadows, who has been working in the school detective unit for eight years. “We are trying to prevent incidents that happened last year; like with Price Middle and Grady High School where there were two shooting incidents.”