Yes or No on SRO? Answer is in Empirical Research

Updated: May 31

Frederick News-Post, April 28, 2021

By Karl Bickel

The March 24 Frederick County Board of Education (BOE) meeting featured a presentation on school resource officers (SROs). In an effort to better inform the BOE of the efficacy of the SRO program, members of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office (FCSO) and Frederick Police Department (FPD) provided a good overview of the structure and activities of the county’s SRO program. However, the presentation did not put forward a clearly articulated purpose or set of measurable outcomes. There was no supporting evidence that the goals of the program are being accomplished.

In fact, the specific goals of the program were not readily apparent. There were references to increased school safety and improved relationships between law enforcement and the community, but in spite of the program’s 20-year history there was nothing to demonstrate specifically targeted goals, a process for evaluating the program or success in achieving measurable program objectives.

At a time when police departments are coming under increased scrutiny, it is imperative that our police are able to demonstrate why they are doing what they do and that what they do is working to meet community needs and goals. That means that the purpose of the SRO program and expected measurable outcomes need to come from the community, be clearly stated and be reviewed and addressed on a regular basis.

Until we know what the purpose is, what the expected outcomes are, and have empirical data that demonstrates success or failure in achieving the desired goals, we will not know if we should continue with the SRO program or not. We will not know if the taxpayer dollars invested produce a satisfactory return.

According to the sheriff, just since 2017, more than $9 million in county funds have been budgeted for the SRO program, and that does not count funding for the FPD and Brunswick Police participation in providing SROs for Frederick County schools.

The FCSO started the SRO program in May 2000, and the initiative has accumulated many much-deserved accolades. But those of us who have been steadfast supporters of SROs must keep an open mind and not lose sight of the fact that no matter how well intended a program may be, or how wonderful anecdotal stories may sound, it may not be accomplishing what it set out to do. There may even be unintended consequences.

The Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program developed by the Los Angeles police department in 1983 was popular nationwide, including here in Frederick County, with the sheriff’s office, state police and city police all participating. It went on for many years before any empirical research was done to see if it worked, after which DARE was found to be ineffective in deterring drug abuse and was abandoned. According to research published in the American Journal of Public Health and other scholarly journals, some students who completed the DARE program actually had higher rates of drug abuse than those who did not participate. It was an unanticipated result only seen through unbiased research.

We don’t want to abandon the SRO program based on some anecdotal stories, nor do we want to keep funding it by using the same sort of reasoning. The decision to keep, modify or abandon the SRO program should be grounded on evidence-based data. Now is the time for the Board of Education and/or the law enforcement community to support the necessary research required to determine the efficacy of Frederick County’s SRO program. Then and only then will we know how to proceed.

Karl Bickel, formerly second in command of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office and a former assistant professor of criminal justice, is retired from the U.S. Department of Justice and writes from Monrovia. He can be reached at

Originally published in The Frederick News-Post:

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