DES MOINES, Iowa — Since the early 2000s, school resource officers (SROs) at Des Moines Public Schools may have seemed like the definition of safety in the classroom, but not everyone would agree.
“I think we need to have a bigger conversation on what do you see as safe and what does safety mean to you? What does it look like and what does it feel like?” said Dwana Bradley, who serves as the chair of the Des Moines School Board.
The future of SROs in the district next school year could be decided with the help of a survey. Bradley said, “We are not saying we are absolutely done with them. We are not saying we are absolutely keeping them.”
After calls for racial justice and change to law enforcement tactics, cities and school districts across the county are rethinking the police department’s role. “This goes back further than us just responding to a national issue and I think that is important for people to know,” Bradley said.
Anti-racist town halls held by the district discussed community issues with having SROs in school. “We do serve a community that is majority student of color in our district. We do know that there is a negative connotation that comes with SROs in the building,” said Bradley.
The survey went out to parents this week with questions like, “How does the presence of an SRO affect the climate of your child’s school? How important is it that an SRO is inside the school.” Bradley said, “We know that there are many students who have great relationships with our SROs and we don’t want to forget about that.”
Des Moines Police Department data shows that in a five-year span in and out of the school year from July 2014 to June 2019, there were 7,058 service calls, ranging from drugs and assault to theft and non-emergencies, made to addresses of a high school or middle school in Des Moines. That’s over 1,400 calls a year to schools already staffing an SRO at each of the five high schools and four officers rotating time at ten middle schools.
“I wouldn’t say that this is Des Moines against the police department. This is Des Moines trying to see how we can all work together to come up with a solution that works best for all,” Bradley said.
Des Moines police released a statement saying, “We are in discussions with the Des Moines public schools and will continue to contribute to those discussions as we work towards a decision that is in the best interest of all involved.”
Bradley added, “We are not going to make that decision alone. We are going to include the voices of our community and that’s key for people to know.”
A similar survey will be given to students in grades 5-12 and staff beginning Nov. 30. The school board could begin having discussions about the future of the SRO program as soon as February.