There’s a national discussion going on about whether U.S. police forces should change, and if so, how? A part of this discussion is whether police belong in schools. Many elementary, middle, and high schools across the country have a police presence. In Roanoke, these officers are called school resource officers or SROs.
Typically, elementary schools have one SRO per two schools, middle schools are assigned one SRO, while high schools are assigned two. In the 2019-20 academic year, there were 18 SROs assigned to Roanoke schools.
Many believe SROs are important for students’ safety. But there’s always another side. Students can be arrested at school, and some believe they criminalize minors. This particularly affects students of color.
If you’re a parent with a child in a Roanoke public school, it’s important to understand your child’s rights concerning SROs and other police officers. If an SRO arrests your child in a Roanoke school, contact our Roanoke criminal attorneys at Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico at (540) 343-9349.
An SRO Is a Police Officer
It’s important to note that despite the unique title, SROs are real police officers. They are cops from the Roanoke Police Department who applied for these positions.
It helps if you talk with your children from a young age about how to interact with these officers in schools. After all, these are armed law enforcement officers with limited training on how to interact with children or mental health issues. It’s important for children to be polite and respectful, and if they are confronted, to do their best not to escalate the situation.
Your Child Could Be Handcuffed and Restrained
Ordinarily, SROs should not handcuff or restrain students. But it can happen. An SRO can physically restrain and handcuff your child if they believe it’s necessary because:
- Your child poses a serious risk of harm to others or school property, or
- Your child is under arrest for committing a crime.
If your child is ever handcuffed, they should not fight the SRO or say anything. If the SRO asks them questions, they should say they will not answer questions without a lawyer or their parent present. As a parent, this can be hard because you probably tell them to respect the police and other authority figures. But making this distinction is important to protecting their rights.
You Child Shouldn’t Answer Questions
Though SROs are positioned as partners that provide a safe environment and classroom support, they also serve as law enforcement within the schools. Children are regularly stopped, detained, questioned, and in some cases, entered into the juvenile justice system.
Your children should be aware that if they are stopped or detained by an SRO, they don’t have to answer their questions. Talk with your children about what this looks like. It’s unlikely that they are going to be arrested, like what they see on TV. Instead, this might look like getting sent to the principal’s office, but then an SRO is there too.
If an SRO starts asking your child questions about an incident at school, your child should respond that they cannot answer questions without one of their parents or guardians being present. Then, the child should ask the SRO or another school employee to call their mom, dad, or another guardian.
As parents, you should review your school’s policy on questioning by an SRO. Not all schools automatically notify parents.
Your Child Shouldn’t Consent to a Search
If an officer asks to search a child’s person or their backpack, your child can and should say no. The police generally need a warrant to search a student’s bag, purse, or pockets unless your child gives them permission, or they have probable cause the child committed a crime. The police can’t have a hunch that a child did something wrong. There must be a verifiable fact that supports the presumption they committed an offense.
But searches and seizures are different for items that are the school’s property. Students don’t have an expectation of privacy in their desk or locker. Make sure your children understand their right to privacy in their bag and pockets, and that they can say no if an SRO asks to search their stuff.
Call a Lawyer if Your Child Was Arrested by a Roanoke SRO
If your child was arrested and charged with a crime, whether as an adult or a juvenile, the best thing to do is contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Our team at Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico, has years of experience fighting criminal charges. We are here to help your child avoid criminal penalties and get back to a safe learning environment.