Omaha Public Schools has committed $1.6 million to hire and retain School Resource Officers for 2022-23, bucking the national trend of limiting or defunding SROs entirely.
“School safety obviously is a paramount issue right now,” said OPD Sgt. Eric Picht, a supervisor of School Resource Officers for the Omaha Police Department.
Three months ago, in a Uvalde, Texas elementary school, 19 students and two teachers lost their lives to a gunman. The school’s lack of defenses and the disjointed police response remain a source of outrage nationwide.
“We look at that stuff very closely, and very tragic situations, and we always look to learn about circumstances – like what could have been done better, even on our own policy and procedure based on what’s happening around the country.”
Picht made his statements to a KMTV 3 News reporter inquiring about the recently released OPS budget figure for SROs.
Omaha Public Schools has employed School Resource Officers for the better part of two decades. Many come from area police departments or county sheriffs, but the majority are drawn from the Omaha Police Department, often providing a more localized understanding of conflict dynamics at work in school disputes.
While their role first and foremost is securing the schools, that mission is far from the only one fulfilled by SROs.
Lisa Utterback, head of student and community service for OPS, describes the SRO in the television report as “part of our staff, per se, when we employ them through our local law enforcement agencies to support the overall safety needs of the school … They’re there also as a system of support for kids. And because they have those relationships, when students have needs or concerns, they’ll work with their counselor or they’ll go to their School Resource Officer for assistance.”
Picht says the SRO is “really a jack-of-all-trades that assists the school district and school administration with essentially anything you can think of.”
According the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, “The SRO will teach students about crime prevention and avoiding victimization, and reduce crime by helping students formulate an awareness of rules, authority, and justice. SROs build positive rapport among students by being visible and accessible to student bodies, initiating interactions, and serving as strong role models.”
SROs work to break down barriers that often exist between youth and law enforcement. They conduct prevention and deterrence functions, as well as investigating potential law enforcement incidents that may result in disciplinary actions or proceedings.
However, unless the activity rises to the level of criminality, any discipline or punishment involved will be at the discretion of school administrators, not the SRO.
The recent trend of removing SROs from school systems as part of the larger “Defund the Police” movement has led to dramatically adverse consequences for students and school staff. None of the 11 Omaha-area school districts removed SROs despite vocal activism demanding they do so.
And now Omaha-area schools have only deepened their commitment to SROs.