Students Less Fearful, Have Better Learning Outcomes, Improved Mental Health, Miss Less School
An extensive two-year Carleton University study of Peel Regional Police’s $9-million School Resource Officer (SRO) program is reducing crime and bullying while providing extensive social and economic benefits estimated at 11 times the cost, especially for students who feel safer and less stressed, miss less school, are better able to learn and are mentally healthier.
The independent report initiated by Linda Duxbury, a professor in Carleton’s Sprott School of Business, and Prof. Craig Bennell in the Department of Psychology, is based on a survey of nearly 1,300 Grade 9 students and 100 interviews with SROs, their bosses, school administrators and students in five Peel Region high schools. The researchers also reviewed daily records kept by SROs and shadowed them during their working hours on 10 occasions.
Police agencies across Canada are re-evaluating the services they provide and are increasingly interested in being able to pinpoint the value of those services to address concerns of municipal governments.
While the study suggests that all students realize measurable benefits from the SRO program, those who have been victims of bullying and/or violence (16 per cent of students surveyed) reported feeling significantly safer after experiencing the program for five months.
School staff also benefit from police support and spend less time on disciplinary matters and property damage. And because SROs are more likely to recommend diversion when appropriate, students can often avoid criminal charges.
The presence of police increases the chance that students, especially those with mental health issues, will get the help they need from social services and health-care systems. The program also reduces pressure on the police force’s front lines and gives officers the chance to acquire a wide range of skills critical to effective police work in the communities they serve.
Interviews showed school administrators worry most about the impact of bullying, especially cyberbullying, as well as drugs, theft and assault in their schools, but the presence of SROs reduces concerns about these issues.
The program allows officers to build positive and trusting relationships with students, administrators and other members of the community. Half of the administrators who were interviewed felt it was problematic that SROs are moved every two to three years given the close relationships that develop, and some felt the program should be expanded to middle schools in the region.
A social return on investment analysis (SROI) calculated diverse benefits for all those involved valued at $11.13 for every dollar spent on the program, which includes 60 SROs covering all 66 Peel Region high schools under both public and Catholic school boards. Eight sergeants and four staff sergeants, as well as nine civilians, are also affiliated with the program, which began about 20 years ago.
The SROI for the Peel Region program is high, since social programs typically yield $3 to $5 of social and economic value for each dollar spent.
Eighty per cent of the assessed value of the program is realized by students, especially those who have been victimized, female students, and those placed in a diversion program rather than charged with a crime. Overall, 75 per cent of students surveyed said they felt safer with police in their schools because officers can deter criminal behavior, respond fast when something happens and defuse trouble before it escalates.
The entire report, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, is available at carleton.ca/peel.
“The data from our study is unequivocal – the officers who work in Peel high schools make a positive difference to the students, school administrators and community. As an educator myself, I think students should be given every possible chance to have a great high school experience. They should feel safe at school. They should feel safe on the way to and from school. They should have every opportunity to learn and do well at school without worrying about bullying, cyberbullying or being physically assaulted. Our data show that the SRO program in Peel provides all of these benefits and more.’’ Linda Duxbury, professor, Carleton’s Sprott School of Business
“Until now, we knew relatively little about the activities of these officers, how they engage with staff, students, and the broader community, or the impact they have on the school environment. This study helps to shed light on these issues. It shows that, by working with school administrators, school resource officers can help to make school a safer place for our children to grow and learn. We say this with some confidence because, no matter how we looked at this issue within our study, our results were overwhelmingly positive.’’ Craig Bennell, director of Carleton’s Police Research Lab
“We are pleased the results of Dr. Linda Duxbury’s research demonstrate the value of the Peel Regional Police School Resource Officer (SRO) program. Our SRO officers work hard to build relationships with students, faculty and the wider school community. I’m happy to hear that the research validates the program’s positive impact within our community. We are committed to maintaining the strong partnerships we have with both the Peel District School Board and the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board.” Peel Region Chief Jennifer Evans
“As a school board, we believe there is tremendous value in the School Resource Officer program in helping to build strong and positive relationships between students and police. Through a partnership that is adaptive, responsive and focused on student success and well-being, we look forward to working together with police to support all of our students so that every child and teen feels safe, respected and included.” Peter Joshua, director of education at Peel District School Board
“School Resource Officers are an important component of our successful and multi-faceted relationship with Peel Regional Police. Through the building of positive relationships with students and staff, we continue to break down barriers that exist outside the walls of the school. This contributes to a safe, healthy and inclusive learning environment, leading to greater student success and well-being for all students.” Marianne Mazzorato, director of education at Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board
About Linda Duxbury:
Linda Duxbury is a professor at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business. She received a Master’s of Science in Chemical Engineering and a PhD in Management Sciences from the University of Waterloo. She has completed four major national studies on work-life balance. Other areas where she has published include the impacts of email, portable offices, cellular phones, telework, flexible work arrangements and change management. She teaches graduate courses in managing change and organizational behaviour at Sprott. She has undertaken a variety of research projects with a number of different police services, both nationally and internationally.
About Craig Bennell:
Craig Bennell is a professor in the Department of Psychology at Carleton University and director of the Police Research Laboratory. His research is carried out in collaboration with police agencies across Canada and examines evidence-based policing, police use of force and the validity of psychologically based investigative techniques. He has published and presented widely on these topics. He teaches courses in forensic psychology, police psychology and criminal behaviour. He is the co-author of two Canadian undergraduate textbooks: Forensic Psychology and Psychology of Criminal Behaviour: A Canadian Perspective.
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