Role of SROs in responding to dangerous situations

SUN PRAIRIE, Wis. (WMTV) -- If someone enters a school with a weapon, School Resource Officers can be the difference between whether students live or die.

Those officers made a difference in two Wisconsin high schools just this week. NBC15 took a look at the role of these officers in a local school district and how they are trained to respond to these situations.

Detective Sergeant Ryan Cox supervises the two School Resource Officers (SROs) in the Sun Prairie Area School District.

"We currently have one that is assigned to the high school and one that's assigned to Cardinal Heights Upper Middle School," Cox said. "In the end, yeah absolutely, it makes us feel safer."

After two incidents in Wisconsin schools this week where SROs stepped in to help, Cox said Sun Prairie's two officers are focusing on being there for their own students.

"We know that our officers are up there currently, making sure they're okay, that they're there to answer questions about what these incidents have been," Cox said.

Cox explained that when dealing with a threat officers in Waukesha and Oshkosh faced this week, SROs get the same training as all Sun Prairie police officers.

"No matter what is happening, if there is a potential active threat, we are going in," he said.

SROs also receive and help teach ALICE training. ALICE is a method the school district uses to help students and staff react in a dangerous situation.

"They help facilitate our drills that we hold twice a year for our school," Cox said.

Sun Prairie Police have been working to help school practice lockdown drills for 20 years since the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School. Six years ago, police switched to ALICE drills.

ALICE drills allow students and staff to practice different responses, including evacuation, lockdown and defending themselves against a threat.

"Our School Resource Officers are imperative in that training because they're there every day," Cox said.

Student and staff safety is SROs' first priority, but these officers are also an important part of the school community.

"Our school resource officers are out in the buildings, talking with students consistently throughout their day," said Nick Reichhoff, Director of School Operations for the Sun Prairie Area School District.

Building those relationships in school can make a difference in how an SRO could handle a threat inside the school.

"Hopefully they'd be able to de-escalate that situation even better," Cox explained.

Incidents at Wisconsin high schools this week have been a reminder of how valuable that role can be.

"Our friends and colleagues in these other districts that have been involved in these incidents over the last couple of days, certainly our thoughts go out to them in this really troubling time," Reichhoff said.

Cox and Reichhoff both said these incidents have reminded them how important it is to work together to keep students safe.

At the state level, Deputy State Superintendent Makr Thompson said Wisconsin's Department of Public Instruction does not encourage or discourage SROs in school districts. Thompson said the department encourages each school district to assess their needs for safety and security.

The Department of Public Instruction and the Wisconsin Department of Justice did develop some guidelines and best practices for schools with SROs.

Thompson echoed Cox and Reichhoff's emphasis on a strong partnership if a district decides to implement SROs.

"A lot of our school districts and law enforcement have great partnerships, that is critical because this is a community issue, this is not a school issue," Thompson said.