About a third of school districts in the Chicago area have a police officer permanently assigned to their schools, according to a public records request.
NBC 5 Investigates sent a Freedom of Information request to 382 public and charter elementary and high school districts in the Chicago area, asking each one if they had school resource officers. Of the 311 districts that responded, 184 districts, or 59 percent, said it did not have SROs; 116 districts, or 37 percent, did.
Eleven other districts, or 3.5 percent, provided other information, and these districts could not be classified as having SROs or not.
The issue has come to the forefront once again as another school shooting has threatened safety.
Nineteen-year-old Matthew Milby, a current senior, is charged with opening fire at Dixon High School. He was confronted by Mark Dallas, an SRO assigned to the campus, who injured Milby in a shootout in an effort to protect other students.
“What happened in Dixon on Wednesday is another example of the critical need for school resource officers being assigned in our schools,” said James Kruger, President of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police. “These dedicated officers are there to ensure the wellbeing of the students, not put them on a path to prison or focus on arrest. They are there in the truest sense of community oriented policing and relationship building while providing a higher level of security for our students.”
In an interview last month, Kruger told NBC 5 Investigates said some schools were looking to increase their law enforcement presence in the wake of national tragedies, including the Valentine’s Day massacre in Parkland, FL.
“I can say that we’ve seen a significant increase of a majority of high schools, and I would say probably a good number of middle schools or junior high schools also have an officer,” Kruger said.
Kruger said many districts do not employ SROs because of financial constraints. Each district enters into agreements with its local law enforcement agency to determine how the officer will be paid.
“Some can be 50-50. Some can be two-thirds to one-thirds,” Kruger said.
But for some children’s advocates, more police on campus could spell trouble.
“Police should only be contacted if there is a serious and immediate threat to the safety of our school personnel, the public or our students,” said Michelle Mbekeani-Wiley, an attorney for the non-profit Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law. “We find that we are funneling children, particularly children of color, into the criminal justice system.”
According to Mbekeani-Wiley, that’s a direct result of a lack of training for SROs. In Illinois, officers permanent stationed in schools are not required to undergo youth specific training or certification.
“We require officers who work with dogs to receive canine training. We require officers who work with horses to receive equestrian training. Yet officers who work with children (in Illinois) receive no specialized training in how to interact with the student population,” said Mbekeani-Wiley.
Mbekeani-Wiley has helped draft Senate Bill 2925, carried by state Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-4th District, that would mandate training for SROs in areas, such as crisis intervention for youth, de-escalation, implicit bias, adolescent brain development and cyberbullying.
The bill unanimously passed the state Senate. It is currently awaiting a vote on the House floor.
“No matter how well your school performs, I think it’s important to protect the safety of the students, the teachers and the administrators in the building,” said Sen. Lightford.