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 ...

The implementation of the SRO Program at APS will decrease the use of part-time law enforcement. Last school year, records show that APS used 235 part-time Atlanta polics officers and sheriff’s deputies to patrol school grounds and respond to incidents. When the SRO program is at full implementation, part-timers will only be used for after-school activities, emergencies or to support SROs.

“These individuals will be assigned to schools five days a week … and will not be pulled out for any other roles or emergencies that come up,” said Steve Smith, an associate superintendent with APS. “Students and staff will become familiar with them. They will be keenly focused on keeping the campus safe. We feel that will give our parents the type of comfort level they will need.”

Some parents, however, have voiced concern about what beefing up the police force will mean for troubled kids, and whether it could lead to more juvenile arrests.

Fifty years ago, armed National Guardsmen had to be deployed in states such as Arkansas to keep kids safe during the first phases of integration. Now armed police are being used to keep kids safe every day.

Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Erroll Davis pushed for establishing the SRO program with full-time officers following the April 2012 shooting of a 14-year-old Price Middle School student. APS will cover the personnel costs for the SROs in the program.

SROs will get to know students on campus, identify student leaders and look to those kids to provide confidential tips on activity that could be criminal or dangerous.

The school police also will work closely with fellow Atlanta Police officers in the School Detective Unit to offer a comprehensive approach to fighting school crime. Investigators will analyze crime data in and around APS’ nine school clusters to look for trends.  They will use the information to deter crime caused by students or by strangers wandering on campus. 

“It will allow our school resource officers to be more proactive in engaging with students, staff and parents,” Meadows said. “If we have cars being broken into in the parking lots, those sort of petty crimes can lead to more serious crimes. The school resource officers can make a point to patrol the parking lots.”

SROs have the authority to make arrests. But their focus will be on getting involved in the life of the school to make kids feel more comfortable with having them around.

Walter Riggins, an officer in the school detective unit, said he volunteered last year to help mentor a child in a reading program at Thomasville Heights Elementary.

“He looked for me every week,” said Riggins, “I helped him to read. We communicated a bit. He was quite comfortable with me. We are there to help, not cause any hindrance.”

Eventually, Meadows said he would like to work with Clark Atlanta University and the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change to establish leadership and conflict resolution training for student supporters of SROs so that the APS kids can be role models on campus.

“A safe environment is critical to the education and learning environment for our students,” said Smith, the associate superintendent of APS. “We are excited about our collaboration with the APD. This is an important step forward for our school system.”