The Justice Collaboratory is exploring the influence of school-based policing on adolescent safety and well being, as well as on juvenile perceptions of the criminal justice system. Over the past decade, the presence of full-time, armed police officers in American public schools has increased exponentially. These School Resource Officers (SROs) are now installed in over two-thirds of high schools across the country. However, the duties of SROs are often poorly defined and vary greatly across jurisdictions. The impact of their increased presence is largely unknown. Do these officers effectively reduce school violence and promote student safety? Or do they feed the school-to-prison pipeline, responding with legal consequences to actions that might otherwise be considered minor offenses? Minimal and often contradictory research has addressed the effect that this chronic police presence is having over students’ behavior as well as their psychological development.

With this project, we suggest that a procedural justice framework is optimal for understanding the impact of SRO treatment on student outcomes. Procedurally just treatment of adults by police has been linked to increased perceptions of institutional legitimacy and obligation to obey the law, as well as a decreased likelihood of subsequent recidivism. Yet relatively little work has explored the effects of procedurally just treatment on juveniles. This project uses both (1) large-scale survey data to connect different types and frequencies of contact with SROs to student outcomes as well as (2) experimental methods to test the effects of procedural justice interventions for School Resource Officers. This research will address the capacities and roles in which SROs are most effective at promoting student safety and engagement, and suggest ways to emphasize the positive impact these officers may have on the long-term trajectories of youth.

We suggest that focusing on procedural justice as a predictor of adolescent outcomes (1) reframes discussions of juvenile misbehavior away from a focus on adolescent neurological deficits, such as poorer impulse control and emotion regulation skills while at the same time (2) offers an intervention that shifts some of the burden off of struggling adolescents and on to the authority figures charged with their well-being.

As we continue to expand this project, we encourage any school districts and police departments interested in collaborating to contact us for further information.

Principal Investigators
Tom R. Tyler
Tracey Meares

Research Team
Yael Granot
Kalisha Dessources
Rachel Johnston