Henrico County expanding role of school resource officers ‘to increase positive interactions’

Henrico County

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — School Resource Officers in Henrico County are taking on more virtual responsibilities. The school district has decided to increase the presence of SROs to help further connect them with students.

The decision comes at a time when the cultural climate in the U.S. is fighting police brutality and officer interactions are under a microscope. Many school districts are reevaluating the role of SRO’s. Richmond Public Schools is reviewing data and having discussions to possibly remove officers from schools, while Charlottesville City Schools have already done so.

However, Henrico County Public Schools says, SRO’s are here to stay.

“We look at our officers, our SRO’s, as partners,” Roscoe Cooper III, Henrico’s School Board Chair, told 8News.

Cooper is a product of HCPS, graduating from Henrico High School, and says SRO’s were vital back then and still are today. He confirms to 8News that as of now there is no discussion or talk to remove officers from Henrico schools.

Cooper does say, however, that in the current climate of police brutality, the school board is discussing ways to improve the county’s SRO program, but admits there is a common misconception surrounding an officer’s role.

“Our SRO’s they don’t deal with the discipline,” Cooper said. “That’s the administration, so when it comes to the code of conduct, that’s what disciplines our schools and that’s administered by our administrators, not the SRO’s.”

Pre-COVID-19, SRO’s would be seen engaging with students face-to-face, on school grounds, serving as mentors and support systems, however due to the pandemic things are virtually changing.

“We are kind of reimagining the role of our SRO’s for our virtual platform, but also building upon it to increase positive interactions,” said Cortney Berry, HCPS Emergency Manager.

Berry tells 8News the role of Henrico’s SRO’s will be increasing with more engagement opportunities.

As of Tuesday, the first day of school, officers are co-teaching online classes like Driver’s Educations, Health & Physical Education, and Civics. Officers are also hosting virtual mentoring clubs and activities.

Berry says perhaps the biggest change SRO’s will be holding “virtual office hours”, which will serve as a neutral environment to have the difficult discussions.

“We know that there’s gaps,” Berry said. “But there are things we need to do to fill those gaps and having those conversations with our community stakeholders, with our administrators, and with students will help us fill in those gaps.”

One of those gaps is suspensions rates, black students and those with disabilities have the highest rates within Henrico’s school district.

Berry says the goal is to build trust and support, while increasing diversity. However, she does say each officer goes through extensive non-bias training.

Currently, HCPS has 35 SRO’s. Each middle and high school has at least one designated SRO, while officers only serves a liaisons for elementary schools.

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