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Md. police officer shares take on how cops in schools should work

In this Monday, Oct, 26, 2015 photo made from video taken by a Spring Valley High School student, Senior Deputy Ben Fields tries to forcibly remove a student who refused to leave her high school math class, in Columbia S.C. The Justice Department opened a civil rights investigation Tuesday after Fields flipped the student backward in her desk and tossed her across the floor. (AP Photo)

WASHINGTON — The video is clear; the actions are rapid. A school resource officer strides toward a student, issues a command, and in seconds, he’s grabbing her desk, flipping it over, then dragging the student toward the front of the room.

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The video went viral and reactions were powerful. There was an outcry from those who felt the officer was completely out of line, and there were those who said the student failed to obey a police order.

Don Bridges, a Baltimore County police officer and First VP for the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO), has a different take on the footage from the South Carolina schoolroom.

Bridges, who serves as an SRO in Baltimore County’s Franklin High School, says when school districts agree to have police work inside schools, a memorandum of understanding should be drawn up: “It clearly defines what the roles of the SROs are,” Bridges says.

He says that when schools stray from those roles, that’s when trouble begins.

Bridges says it’s hard to know precisely what went wrong in the case in South Carolina, but Bridges says NASRO makes one thing clear: “The SROs have absolutely nothing at all to do with discipline within a school.”

Student conduct and discipline, Bridges says, should be left to teachers and administrators.

Bridges has been a school resource officer since 1998, and says officers who opt to work in schools should be selected and screened very carefully, and “need to have a genuine liking for kids.”

Mostly, SROs don’t deal with emergencies, says Bridges, but problems that do demand attention. That doesn’t mean police should use a heavy hand.

“If they’re not handled properly, then they can quickly become a 911 type of situation,” says Bridges.

Knowing the students’ concerns and knowing students by name, Bridges says, are among the SRO’s most powerful tools for the job. Bridges says it boils down to establishing relationships with students based on caring, trust and respect.

“The kids within a schoolhouse, they respect an SRO — if the SRO is committed to them.”

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