After the recent shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, Marshall County High School in Kentucky, and at Great Mills High School in Maryland, the practice of keeping students and faculty safe in school has come up for debate across the nation, with many focusing on the role of the SRO, or school resource officer.
According to the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO), an SRO is defined as a, “Career law enforcement officer with sworn authority who is deployed by an employing police department or agency in a community-oriented policing assignment to work in collaboration with one or more schools.” This can cover a wide variety of duties, including: creating a safe learning environment for students and employees, fostering positive relationships with students and develop problem-solving strategies.
The two SROs who oversee Oswego High School and Oswego East High School, Officer Matthew Mumm and Officer Kristyn Chmielewski, respectively, see these responsibilities in their roles at their schools.
“(We’re) building relationships with them (students) and showing the community that we’re here to help,” Chmielewski said.
Chmielewski, an Oswego police officer for the past five years and in her second year as an SRO, applied to work at OEHS - her alma mater.
“It was kind of twofold, giving back to the school that I came from, and trying to get a better image of police in high schooler’s minds,” she said. “We’re there to help, we’re people too, it shows them that we can go and hang out and play basketball with them; we’re still a person.”
Mumm, a 17-year veteran of the Oswego Police Department, is in his first year as an SRO, though he originally never considered it as a path.
“It wasn’t until I actually shadowed one of the SROs before me, that I saw it was totally different than I thought it was,” he said. “I enjoy it and I’m not looking forward to summer because school’s out. I like the school and I enjoy my job.”
The two SROs help to lead and conduct two of the district’s lockdown drills each year, involving students and staff, held in conjunction with local law enforcement agencies. While state law mandates that school districts conduct one active shooter drill a year with law enforcement agencies, SD308 conducts two each year, along with four annual on-site drills that each school administration conducts which may include students. The school district pays the village of Oswego for the time that the officer is assigned to the school to work.
When describing what the district looks for in an SRO, Valerie Patterson, District 308’s executive director of district student services, said they must have a variety of skills.
“The school district hopes that an officer will be a good communicator with students, parents and staff, someone who is willing to support team-teaching the criminal justice classes at the high schools, someone who is a reliable first-responder that is able to respond to a variety of situations,” Patterson said.
In addition to keeping schools safe, Mumm and Chmielewski also help to teach a law enforcement class at each high school and lead presentations on a variety of subjects for different classes including business law, driver’s education and presentations on positive and productive use of social media.
“When I addressed the school, I wanted to let the students know to use us as a resource,” Mumm said, describing the additional information he has provided to driver’s ed students on information not discussed in their textbooks.
The resource aspect of their position, the two agreed, is one of the more abstract parts of their duties.
“Students come into my office all the time, with questions about different things, whether it’s school-related, homework questions,” Mumm said. “I think the misconception is that we just sit in our office and walk around looking for trouble, when in fact we’re the opposite. We’re used for assistance and help. It’s actually a non-police environment for us.”
Chmielewski added, “I’ve had students who have come to me with issues and problems; I don’t see them for a little bit, and they come back and they’re like, ‘Hey, I really appreciate what you did for me, it really helped me get my grades up, it really helped me at home; now I can communicate with my parents better.’”
A benefit of their work in schools, Mumm said, is that SROs are afforded more time and ways to follow up on an issue with a faculty member or student.
“If a student comes to me with a problem, and I contact the parents about the problem, I can use the school as a resource, and I can also follow up as a resource,” he said. “On patrol, you go to the call, you leave when you’re done with it, and go to the next call.”
“It’s a constant everyday thing, where you can follow up with students; making sure they’re doing what you talked about, and being able to help them continuously instead of a one-and-done thing,” he added.
Though the public perception of their positions may have changed in recent weeks, Chmielewski said that she doesn’t see the nature of her and Mumm’s roles as SROs changing.
“I don’t think our jobs are going to change at all,” she said. “We have really good practices in place as it is, as far as school safety. We’ve been doing it for years. We’re kind of ahead of a lot of schools, in conducting safety drills. I think we’re going to keep going, and doing what we’re doing every day.”