Steps to Bridge the Gaps between Cops and Communities

Constant media scrutiny has served to highlight the rift between law enforcement agencies and the citizens they protect and serve.  Since schools have the power to influence and guide social change, many organizations and stakeholders are beginning to examine the role of law enforcement officers in schools and their potential to improve relationships between police and communities.   St. Louis County School Resource Officer Ronald Cockrell in Beyond the Badge: Profile of a School Resource Officer emphasized, “It has to be inside our heart that you want to make a difference in your community.” Cockrell works towards bridging the gap between students and police officers amidst the strained relationship between law enforcement and the community of Ferguson, MO.  The video focuses on Cockrell’s efforts to build relationships with students and teachers, listen to students talk about fear of the police in a school town hall, mentor young people on how to negotiate conflicts, and work with the school faculty to respond and support a student whose father is murdered.

While the video examines Cockrell’s role in helping heal the shattered community of Ferguson, it highlights the widely recognized triad model of  school based policing which includes (a) enforcement, (b) education, and (c) mentoring (The Roles of School-Based Law Enforcement Officers and How These Roles Are Established:  A Qualitative Study). These duties are simultaneously addressed through typical police activities such as enforcing laws and patrolling assigned areas, capitalizing on teachable moments with students and teaching criminal justice related topics, and providing advice, guidance, and serving as a positive role model.

There is some disagreement among civil rights groups as to whether or not school police officers are improving relationships, like Officer Cockrell in Ferguson, or whether they contribute to the “school-to-prison” pipeline:  policies and social practices believed to push our nation’s schoolchildren, especially our most at-risk children, out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.  It is true that our most at-risk students often have the most negative encounters with teachers and law enforcement, so we must work to value school police officers for more than their enforcement role and work to cultivate their positive position in our school culture and community.

Having worked for nearly a decade preparing future teachers, my experience, as well as documented research, supports the notion that you have to have a passion for kids and not just the subject you want to teach.  The same philosophy applies to school based law enforcement and school resource officers.  Years of classroom instruction taught me that it does not matter what teaching and learning theories you subscribe to—you must form a connection with a student before learning can occur.  Mo Canady, the executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers echoed that sentiment when he stated the ultimate goal for school police officers is “…to bridge the gap between law enforcement and youth. So what we are talking about at the end of the day is building relationships.”

While mainstream media does everything possible to highlight negative police-community relationships, a groundswell of activism is taking place across the country to bring together civic stakeholders to build better relationships between police and the communities they serve.  Maritza Ramos, the widow of slain NYPD officer Rafael Ramos, is launching The Detective Rafael Ramos Foundation in her husband’s honor with this mission in mind.  The Blue Alert Foundation is proud to be partnering with a yet to be announced “Police Safety Initiative” with the goal of bringing together community leaders, local governments, and influencers to find solutions for increased protection of police officers and those they serve with fair, just, and transparent practices.  As 2016 is ushered in, I encourage everyone to consider how they can contribute to positive relationships with law enforcement in their communities and schools. is a personal weblog. The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer.