Unpacking the SRO program
Community leaders, such as Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando and former MCPS Student Member of the Board (SMOB) Nate Tinbite, have called for the reduction or elimination of the School Resource Officer (SRO) program, which installs Montgomery County police officers in county high schools.
The main objection to the program is due to disproportionate arrest rates for some racial groups. MCPS data show that in the 2018-2019 school year, 45 percent of the 163 arrested students countywide were Black. In contrast, 21.6 percent of all 162,680 MCPS students in that school year were Black.
A similar trend is apparent in Maryland. According to data from the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE), Black students made up 56.2 percent of arrests, despite being only 33.6 percent of total students.
Suspensions are also disproportionately issued in the county. MCPS suspension data show that Black and Hispanic students are three times as likely to be suspended as their peers. They also revealed that Black and Hispanic students combined received roughly 80 percent of all suspensions, though Black and Hispanic students make up just 46.8 percent of MCPS’s total student population.
Officer Sharese Junious, who was the SRO assigned to Montgomery Blair High School for five years until receiving a promotion in 2020, thinks that the SRO program plays an important role in schools, according to an interview with Silver Chips in February. “My job is acting as a liaison between the police department and the school,” Junious said, “and basically making sure that the school has any law enforcement it needs.”
SROs’ duties, according to the Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD) website, also include emergency preparedness and safety education, crisis management, assisting with traffic and law enforcement within the school, and helping deliver MCP programs within schools. Such programs include topics like conflict resolution, crime and gang prevention, and drug and alcohol awareness.
Junious believes that the role of the program has been misconstrued by some. “A lot of people are under the assumption that we go to school and we just lock up kids all day, and that couldn’t be further from the truth,” she said. “We really do value the relationships that we build with the students and the staff, and it has nothing to do with us wanting to arrest kids.”
But Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando doubts the merits of the program and is calling for its elimination. According to Jawando, the program is partly to blame for the disproportionate arrest rates of Black and Hispanic students. Jawando thinks the resources expended on the program would be better spent elsewhere.
“We spend 3 million dollars on our police budget, which is the purview of the County Council, to support the SRO program,” Jawando said. “At the same time, we have one of the worst student to nurse ratios in the region,... [and] we also don’t have enough counselors and therapists,”
In July, Jawando proposed eliminating the program to the Montgomery County Council Public Safety Committee, but two out of its three members opposed the effort. Later that month, he offered a motion to the Council as a compromise. The new motion would have reassigned 12 of the 23 school resource officers currently assigned to MCPS’s 26 high schools to other areas of the MCPD. However, the council rejected this also, with four votes in support and five in opposition.
This is an ongoing story. Silver Chips will publish more information in our next issue.
Adam Chazan contributed reporting.