Across the country, parents, students, administrators and teachers are all facing unprecedented challenges of learning loss and the mental health crisis among adolescents that has escalated since Covid-related school closures. Communities and School Districts need to tap the best resources to create environments that nurture positive relationships. By providing tools for our students to adapt to challenges and handle conflict, they will be better prepared to be good citizens as they transition into adulthood.

Central Bucks South High School has benefited from having a School Resource Officer, for thirteen years of combined service since 2004. After a four-year hiatus, Officer Robert Bell, through a partnership with Warrington Township and Central Bucks School District, returned to CB South in September of 2022 (He previously served in this position from 2014-2018). Overall, having a School Resource Officer has reduced officer responses to the school, and Officer Bell also assists with district programs such as Safe2Say at CB South and Tamanend. 

As a member of the Warrington Township Police Department, Officer Bell works in partnership with CB South administration, teachers and staff to promote a safe school environment for everyone. Building relationships is a key part of creating a greater sense of community that benefits all stakeholders. All these elements contribute towards decreasing and deterring crimes while fostering cooperation and problem solving among students. 

Contrary to the narrative portrayed by opponents of School Resource Officer programs, having an officer in a school does not increase student arrests. In fact, School Resource Officers aim to employ actions that do not have long-term impacts on students and there has been a decrease in juvenile arrests in the years since the programs have grown nationwide. 

School Resource Officers aren’t just police officers patrolling schools. They strive to build relationships and trust that enhance all interactions with students. The officer plays a supportive role in the school environment, serving as a counselor, a mentor, and a trusted adult. The National Association of School Resource Officers focuses on professionally supporting sworn law enforcement officers who serve in schools, with the goal of having a positive impact on youth. Overall, schools that have their own dedicated officers who are engaged in education and mentorship programs report fewer crimes than their counterparts without School Resource Officers.

Ultimately, having School Resource Officers can bridge the gap between law enforcement and youth in the communities where they serve. The program creates the opportunity to build trust and supportive relationships with students while expanding community education initiatives.

The success of a School Resource Program is often measured by the decrease in criminal behaviors that occurs when children have responsible and caring adults in their lives. Additionally, once that trust is built between the officer and the school community, students are more likely to report bullying or mental health crises, frequently involving depression or suicidal ideation happening among their peers that in the past may have escalated without intervention.

As our nation grieves over recent school violence tragedies, it is imperative to recognize the key role School Resource Officers can play in preventing school violence. The National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC), established in 1998 as a component of the Secret Service, is composed of a multidisciplinary team of social science researchers and regional program managers who support and empower partners in law enforcement, schools, and public and private sector organizations to combat ever-evolving threats of violence across the United States. According to their report “2021 Averting Targeted School Violence,” in 67 plots to attack schools, in nearly 33 percent of the cases, a School Resource Officer played a key role in reporting or responding to a plot. In the cases where students reported the threat to their officer, it demonstrates that they view them as trusted adults working to protect the entire school community.

The real time impact in Central Bucks School District is evidenced by the data coming directly from CB South and CB West High Schools. At CB South (Covered by Warrington Township Police), in 2021 (before Officer Bell was brought back into the school full time) there were 262 incidents compared to 144 incidents in 2022. Comparatively at CB West (Covered by Central Bucks Regional Police), there were 192 incidents in 2021 compared to 201 Incidents in 2022. In the first year since Officer Bell’s return, CB South reported the lowest number of incidents in five years.

“I hope that my presence at Central Bucks South provides peace of mind and support to the administration, staff and students,” says Officer Bell. “Being a School Resource Officer enables me to be both a counselor and a mentor to my students, offering guidance and advice as they encounter challenges.” 

“My goal is to be part of the landscape, not the focal point. Yet, if the need arises for me to intervene in a behavioral incident or a mental health crisis, I can quickly deescalate the situation and connect students with help and appropriate resources that achieve better outcomes for them, the school and the community,” he adds. “While this has been the most challenging position in my law enforcement career, it has also been the most rewarding for me, knowing that I can make a positive difference.” 

At a time when many students already feel vulnerable as they navigate the journey from childhood to adolescence and into adulthood, school should provide an environment of safety and trust that fosters academic excellence, social development and wellness. Central Bucks School District and the greater community would benefit tremendously from partnering with local law enforcement departments to duplicate the success of the CB South School Resource Officer program at CB East, CB West and other schools. Partnerships between schools and local law enforcement agencies foster positive relationships that are an investment in a brighter future for all our students.

Vanessa Maurer has resided in Bucks County for nineteen years, where she and her husband raised their three children. She has served the community in numerous roles including as a Home and School Association and church volunteer. With a background in finance and economics, Vanessa’s professional experience includes risk management consultant, a CFO, and is currently vice president of an insurance consortium. She was elected as a Warrington Township Supervisor in 2021.

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