RICHMOND, Va. -- This summer, the Richmond Police Department’s School Resource and Safety Officers have been out in their communities playing games with kids, opening fire hydrants, and handing out footballs and popsicles.
The thought that these officers might not be returning to their home schools once they are back in session, is difficult news for Lt. Ronnie Armstead, who oversees the Richmond Police Department's 12 officers and two sergeants assigned to Richmond Public Schools.
“It’s a huge mistake, huge mistake,”Armstead said.
School Resource and Safety Officers not only serve as security personnel but as coaches and mentors in their schools, according to Armstead.
He called student arrests rare and added a majority of disciplinary issues are handled by school administrators.
“That’s the last thing we do, we don’t arrest unless the circumstances are absolutely necessary,” Armstead said. “On the good end, you’ve got that extra body in the school that’s a mentor, that role model, that instructor, that listening ear, that confidant that’s going to take a child under his or her wing and watch them grow.”
On Monday night, Richmond school leaders held the first of two virtual meetings to hear public comments from principals, teachers, and parents regarding a proposal by school superintendent Jason Kamras to eliminate officers from schools.
A large majority spoke in favor of keeping officers in schools, citing the rise in school violence across the nation, and the need for positive role models who can intervene in crisis situations for students.
Dr. Shadae Harris, Chief Engagement Officer for Richmond Public Schools, read several comments from parents, including Sheila Dudley, the mother of a Huguenot High School student.
“Please think about the safety of our children and those who want to learn and also the added responsibility that will be placed on the teachers if SRO’s are removed,” Dudley wrote.
However, recent social unrest has changed the public dialogue over the past few months. Some in the community believe the presence of officers in schools leads to intimidation and fear and contributes to the suppression of minority and disadvantaged students.
Cassie Powell, an attorney with the Legal Aid Justice Center, wrote that public funds should be shifted to support more counselors in schools.
“Divest the $4 million currently spent on school security and invest those dollars in school support staff,” Powell wrote. “Work with the city to divest money currently spent on SRO’s and invest in social workers and school counselors to deal with the social and emotional needs of students.”
Along with school administrators, three Richmond School Board members were present during Monday’s virtual meeting.
A second public comment session is scheduled for August 24. The public is encouraged to submit questions before 1 p.m. on the day of the meeting.