The School Resource Officer (SRO) Program is recognized as one of the first community-based initiatives undertaken by the Edmonton Police Service — it is community policing in its purist form.
In 1979, the EPS entered into a unique partnership with the Edmonton Public and Edmonton Catholic School Boards, creating a police presence within four Edmonton high schools. Today, the program has expanded to include 29 SROs working across 36 schools in Edmonton.
Over the past 40 years, the role of the School Resource Officer has changed dramatically. A primary function of the SRO today is to assist the school administration in ensuring a safe and caring place of learning for students and staff, balancing enforcement with prevention and intervention.
The SRO position is a very rewarding experience for police members, as friendships develop over time with both students and staff. No two resource officers are the same, but each SRO will spend their time overseeing and participating in a myriad of different activities for the school:
Positive youth engagement
Resource Officers play an important role within the school setting, from organizing as well as participating in student-led or school activities, providing counseling, mediation and mentoring, where necessary, and helping to connect students to school and community resources. General exposure to police in a non-confrontational role allows students to see officers as an adult they can rely on. In addition, it often emboldens students to open up and discuss what may be troubling them, some of which include: questionable experiences or decisions that may have been made among their friends, negative family dynamics, or are simply seeking advice on peer relationships.
SROs work tirelessly to ensure the safety of staff and students, daily. From planning and executing lockdown drills throughout the schoolyear, to making themselves available for individual or group discussions with students or staff on the topics of school safety, security and violence. While they are in constant communication with School Administrations and Committees, they are also the first line of crime prevention in school, helping to deter crime-related incidents, such as bullying, graffiti and vandalism, harassment or stalking, robbery or theft, or use of weapons or threats.
Collaboration with community programs to support youth
Throughout the school year, SROs work diligently with their school and community programs to help support youth and their families. From collaborating with Alberta Health Services to educate teens on the health risks of vaping or connecting parents and guardians to The Canadian Centre for Child Protection resources that help keep their children stay safe online, resource officers are committed to fostering partnerships among the Service, the school and the community to ensure safe environments and successful students.
Education around youth topical issues
Working cooperatively with school administrators, staff, students, parents, and the community, SROs proactively identify and address school concerns or problems via structured class presentations. These awareness and education sessions are created on a variety of topics (e.g. drug use, healthy relationships and safe driving) and are all tailored to fit the student population based on direct experience of the SRO within the school setting.
When youth are equipped with essential skills, they can utilize them to assist others and even invest in themselves. Our officers play an essential role in positioning youth who are, or may become, involved with the criminal justice system. SROs work with school administrators, the Service and community programs to help navigate troubled youth away from traditional processing and improve their access to community resources.
One of the more significant diversion methods the SROs run is the PAYOFF (Police Assisted Youth Oriented Formative Fitness) program. Instead of having to pay a fine or go to court for a minor offence like drug use/possession, shoplifting or fighting, PAYOFF gives students an opportunity to make amends through an agreement with the SRO or school administration to work off the offense. This could be anything from completing restorative work around the school, working out with the resource officer, or assisting teachers with extra-curricular activities.
At the end of the day, it helps students learn about accountability, build trust and make their school community stronger by becoming more involved. More importantly, it keeps them out of the justice system and dissuades them from re-offending.