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Approaching School Policing Through a New Frame

Portrait of Brenda Scheuermann

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 30 percent of public schools reported having a school resource officer in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available. Whether the presence of school resource officers has been a success remains controversial. However, for one College of Education faculty member, the issue is not with the presence of school officers, but rather how to integrate them into the schools. 

Dr. Brenda Scheuermann, Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, is serving as the principal investigator for a four-year, $4.3 million grant from the National Institute of Justice (a division of the U.D. Department of Justice) to study a process for integrating law enforcement officers into an educational setting. 

Most of Scheuermann’s research focuses on the efficacy of systems-level positive behavior supports for incarcerated youth. Over the past few years, however, she has been working with the Texas School Safety Center on research projects related to the role of law enforcement in schools. Although many districts now assign police to their campuses, very little is known about “what works” in regards to school-based law enforcement; the NIJ grant will help explore what does.

Over two full school years, Scheuermann’s team (which includes Kathy Martinez-Prather and Dr. Joe McKenna of the Texas School Safety Center) will conduct a randomized controlled trial to evaluate the effects of a comprehensive framework for implementing school-based law enforcement. The framework is broadly based on concepts related to Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and involves setting tailored goals, including: all stakeholders in decision-making, training officers and school staff, and using data-driven decision-making to make program adjustments and solve problems. They will evaluate the effects of the framework on measures of school climate, delinquency, victimization, and school discipline in treatment schools compared to control schools. In addition to impact analyses, they will evaluate the extent to which the framework is implemented with fidelity (e.g., consistently and correctly).

“Our hypotheses are that this framework for school-based law enforcement will reduce exclusionary discipline practices, such as suspension and expulsion, and other negative school and personal experiences, such as bullying and high-risk behaviors,” shared Scheuermann. “Further, we predict that implementing the framework will lead to improvements in school climate, positive adult-student interactions, student engagement with school, and positive perceptions of school police officers and school safety.”

To the best of their knowledge, their four-year study is the first randomized controlled trial to evaluate the effects of a comprehensive approach to integrating school-based law enforcement with overall school discipline practices. “School policing has evolved out of concerns over school safety, but without significant guidance about the optimal role for school-based law enforcement officers, or how those individuals can effectively contribute to positive, preventative school discipline practices,” explains Scheuermann. “Our work is unique in addressing that need.”

The uniqueness of the study is that it focuses on an implementation framework, rather than a specific program, which makes it generalizable to campuses of all types, sizes, and characteristics. In other words, a framework that can be applied nationwide.

“This project offers us an exciting opportunity to evaluate a practice (school policing) that is widespread, but about which we know relatively little,” said Scheuermann. “We hope to be able to show that giving school police officers and educators practical tools for guiding their partnership can produce desirable outcomes in terms of school discipline and school climate.”