Prince William Co. Public Schools proposal: Minor crimes to be handled by principals, not police

School principals, rather than school resource officers, would handle minor crimes in middle and high schools, under a revised student resource officer agreement between Virginia’s Prince William County Public Schools and the county police department.

The school system is soliciting public comment on the proposed Memorandum of Understanding through Dec. 30.

Prince William County is the latest D.C.-area jurisdiction to consider improvements in the way school systems and police departments interact. A school resource officer is a sworn police officer, trained and assigned to work with school administrators to provide a safe learning environment.

According to the proposed MOU: “It is the goal of the PD and the PWCS that children are not unnecessarily exposed to the criminal justice system. Therefore, it shall be agreed that all minor criminal behavior committed by a child in the school setting will be handled by PWCS administration.”

In his first year as Prince William County’s police chief, after leaving Washington, D.C., Peter Newsham has working to improve relationships between the department and the increasingly diverse county by, in part, focusing on diversity.

One goal for Prince William County and other jurisdictions is to look for restorative justice opportunities, in which a student who has caused minor harm — for instance, petty theft — to make amends, without police involvement.

“In the event an SRO is required or requested to become involved to restore peace or for safety reasons, an SRO supervisor will be notified. Collaboratively, school administration; the SRO; and the SRO supervisor(s) will decide what course of action is in the best interest of the child, victim, school, and community,” according to the proposed agreement.

The revised memorandum would continue to allow SROs to interview students, without the consent of a parent.

“Where SROs are assisting, at the request of school authorities, in the investigation of a school-related incident or any incident which may have potential consequences for the safety of students or school employees, he or she may interview students without advance parental consent,” according to the proposed MOU.

“Examples of incidents which may have potential consequences for the safety of students and PWCS employees include student fights that may result in retaliation, threats against students or employees, gang-related offenses such as assault and battery and intimidation, or drug or weapon possession on school property, or at school-related activities.”

The Prince William County SRO agreement includes the school system continuing to provide a private office space for the SRO, to include a computer for in-school use, a printer, a secure file, and weapon storage.

Some school systems — including the City of Alexandria and Arlington County — have voted to avoid having SROs in school buildings on a daily basis, choosing to have them respond as needed.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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