Why Bartlesville Public Schools believe adding student resource officers will increase safety

·4 min read

In the wake of the May 24 school shooting in Uvalde, the Bartlesville Public School district and the City of Bartlesville agreed to expand the district’s police presence from three to nine.

As the plans move forward, BPS officials say they will draw “clear lines” to prevent the measure from becoming more harmful than helpful.

The use of school resource officers (SROs) nationwide has received some criticism in recent years, with organizations like the ACLU and even late-night talk-show Last Week Tonight covering the measure and its potential problems.

Skeptics of the measure cite data showing the presence of SROs leads to increased arrests and criminalization of youth behavior that would otherwise be handled by the school.

Kerry Ickleberry, BPS director of health and safety — and the wife of Bartlesville Police Department Capt. Kevin Ickleberry — said the district approaches the relationship with SROs by drawing a clear distinction between what should be handled by district employees versus the officers.

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“That was the goal from the beginning, that we have clear lanes. (SROs) don’t discipline,” Ickleberry said. “We’re very clear. …. They’re never to be used as a discipline agent and the school is never to be used as their interrogation agent.”

SROs are directed to not enforce school rules, such as dress code policies. If a school employee were to try using an officer for a discipline reason, district leaders would address it with that employee, correcting the behavior, Ickleberry said.

Additionally, officers would not be permitted to make some requests of teachers, such as asking them to ask kids certain questions.

“We never, ever want an officer to come in and do what we’re supposed to do and we’re not going to do what they are supposed to do. We have clear guidelines, we have a mutual understanding agreement and we have conversations and constant meetings,” she said.

Shortly after the Texas shooting, BPS Superintendent Chuck McCauley met with Bartlesville City Manager Mike Bailey and BPD Chief Tracy Roles to discuss possible measures to make the schools more safe.

Currently, the district employs three officers who rotate between the schools. The hiring of additional officers — with one placed at each school — was proposed, and later approved by the Bartlesville City Council.

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Ickleberry said the new SROs will be experienced officers — BPD is reassigning existing officers and hiring new ones, instead of hiring new officers just for the schools.

Like the current SROS, the new ones will do ongoing training through the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) and work in a triad of roles outlined by NASRO — mentor, educator and informal counselor, she said.

“Our three SROs and the ones to come are like our team members. They’re very much helping us. I’ve seen them deescalate children, talk to kids, mentor kids,” Ickleberry said.

Within the district, SROs help lead safety training, such as the lockdown drills done twice each semester. They also enforce other safety measures, such as checking that entry points to the school are limited, McCauley said.

Ickleberry said they also work with district staff to do threat assessments and do home visits for students who have been consistently absent.

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“They plan to protect us, but they also plan to integrate with us and help us with prevention and helping a student have another person they can go reach out to and talk to about anything that concerns them,” Ickleberry said.

BPS has taken several measures in recent years to improve security.

Within the last two years, security cameras across the campuses have been expanded and replaced. Entryways have also been secured and the district has implemented Lobby Guard machines — visitor management systems that require school visitors to scan their ID, alerting school personnel if the person is identified as a risk.

“We’ve really invested heavily in safety throughout the district, we have a lot of procedures in place,” McCauley said. “But obviously when you have a crisis or one of these tragedies that come up, it’s another reason to bring to light the importance of following the safety protocols we already have in place.”

This article originally appeared on Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise: Bartlesville believes student resource officers could increase safety