SROs May Be More Problem Than Solution


There was a time when the term “SRO” commonly meant “Single Room Occupancy.” As in cheap hotels, a/k/a “flophouses.” Or “Standing Room Only” at concerts and sporting events.

Nowadays, however, in suburbs like Park Ridge the term SRO means “School Resource Officer.” Or, as we noted in our August 31, 2017 post, modern-day “Officer Krupke”s from “West Side Story” – a post we encourage you to read so that we don’t have to recount the problems with the whole SRO goat rodeo we previously identified.

From the perspective of taxpayers who see a District rife with neglected buildings and a recent history of suspect educational achievement, spending the money it will take to stick a revolving core of Officer Krupkes in each of the District’s two middle schools for 8-10 hours a week makes about as much sense as the millions it is spending on not-really-secure vestibules.

None whatsoever.

But we were alerted by one of our stringers to a post on Kathy (Panattoni) Meade’s Park Ridge Concerned Homeowners Group Facebook page – by Ginger Pennington – raising questions about the very concept of an SRO program in the light of the suicide earlier this year of a 16-year old Naperville North honor-roll student hours after being confronted by two school deans and a Naperville Police Dept. SRO about his cellphone audiotape of himself and a female classmate having a consensual sexual encounter.

Also on his cellphone: Photos of other partially nude girls and videos, according to Associated Press accounts.

The SRO reportedly told the teen that his cellphone contained what may be illegal “child pornography” that could result in his criminal prosecution and, if convicted, the requirement of registering as a sex offender. As we understand it, that’s a pretty accurate statement of the current law. The SRO reportedly also told the teen that the matter could be kept out of court if the teen cooperated.

After a reported 20-minute interview, the teen was told to wait in the student-services office until his mother arrived. But before she arrived her son left the school, walked up a nearby parking deck ramp to the fifth level, and jumped to his death – less than 3 hours after he had been called to the dean’s office.

Tragic? Absolutely. A needlessly permanent solution to a temporary problem, as youth suicides are so often described.

The result of legally-actionable misconduct by the school administrators and/or the SRO?

Yes, say the parents of the teen in their $5 million suit against the District in DuPage County Circuit Court – in which they allege that administrators ignored Illinois law requiring them to attempt to notify a student’s parents before conducting interviews such as the one in question.

The Naperville school district reportedly disagrees, but we’re betting a settlement is achieved before the district’s actual legal duties and possible breaches thereof ever go to a jury.

How does that play into the D-64 SRO narrative and Ms. Pennington’s concerns?

We’re not exactly sure.

But it’s got to be more than a coincidence that a December 22, 2017 Park Ridge Herald-Advocate story (“Second law firm to evaluate rules for officers to be stationed at District 64 middle schools”) reports that D-64 has paid the Lisle law firm of Ekl, Williams and Provenzale $2,500 to suggest revisions to the proposed SRO intergovernmental agreement between D-64 and the Village of Niles (for the SRO at Emerson Middle School), and between D-64 and the City of Park Ridge (for the SRO at Lincoln Middle School).

That’s the same law firm, led by prominent former DuPage County prosecutor Terry Ekl – who, back in 2008, was paid $75,000 to author the “Ekl Report” about problems in the Park Ridge Police Dept. under former chief Jeff Caudill – that is representing the parents of the Naperville student in their lawsuit.

There actually may be something worthwhile in the D-64 Board’s obtaining legal advice on such a significant issue from both specialized school district attorneys (such as the Board’s regular legal counsel) and from attorneys looking to blow holes in the school district attorneys’ arguments.

But the real problem here, as we noted in our August 31, 2017 post, is the whole notion of bringing SROs – police officers sworn to enforce child pornography laws, drug and alcohol laws, and smoking/vaping laws – into schools with the expectation that they will act like school administrators rather than law enforcement officers.

What research we’ve been able to do suggests that the benefits of SROs in school districts such as ours are anecdotal, at best. Yet Supt. Laurie “I’m the Boss!” Heinz reportedly has presented the idea as a clear and unqualified win/win for the District and the Police Department. That’s problematic.

It becomes even more problematic where, as we understand it, the real reason the SROs are being brought in is because the teachers and/or administrators at those schools aren’t willing or capable of maintaining order and discipline when left to their own devices.

Instead of “Officer Krupke,” maybe D-64 should be looking for no-nonsense coaches, teachers and administrators like the legendary Paterson (NJ) principal Joe (“Lean on Me”) Clark, Kristyn (“No-Nonsense Nurturing”) Klei Borrero, Richmond (CA) coach Ken (“Coach Carter”) Carter and St. Petersburg (FL) principal Nikita Reed.

Or anybody – other than sworn law enforcement officers – who won’t be terrified and intimidated by incorrigible 13-year old suburban punks.

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