SROS AND JUVENILE COURT COUNSELORS

The unique perspectives seen by school resource officers (SROs) and juvenile court counselors (JCCs) in their differing work environments can bring challenges to their collaborative efforts. The challenges they face can be grouped into five categories: roles; expectations; relationships; communication; and the juvenile justice system.

For SROs and JCCs to improve their relationships, they first need to understand each other's roles in the juvenile justice system.
SROs are sworn law enforcement officers who work with the schools. They serve three roles in the school, which include being a law enforcement officer, a law-related counselor and a law-related educator.

Some of the duties that fall under the law enforcement officer role include: patrolling grounds; keeping the peace on campus; arresting law violators; and conducting site inspections.

Some of the duties that SROs are doing that fall under the law-related counselor role include: talking with and listening to students; counseling students on law-related topics; counseling faculty on law-related issues; advising parents and giving them information on possible resources and services in the community; and serving as a connection to the community.

Some of the duties that fall under the law-related educator role include teaching classes, educating school staff about the law, and being advisors for school activities.

The role of juvenile court counselors within the juvenile justice system are divided into four major responsibilities; being an intake counselor, making decisions on diversion, supervising delinquent juveniles, and identifying the needs of juveniles and providing services to meet those needs.

The role least understood by the SROs is how a JCC decides to divert a youth. When a JCC is considering whether or not to divert a juvenile, he/she must consider a number of criteria, including: age of youth; seriousness of crime; restitution issues; child's background/behavior; culpability; and prior intakes. If a juvenile is selected for a diversion program, the JCC must carry the petition through a notification and appeals process. Once the petition has been approved, contracts are created between the juvenile and the court counselors. If the juvenile does not fulfill the contract, he/she is entered back into the system.

Expectations of SROs and JCCs also can affect their relationships. SROs have a number of stakeholders who all hold different expectations of their services, and these differing expectations can place them in uncomfortable situations when they must make tough decisions. Some of the expectations of an SRO that affect their relationships with JCCs include expectations of their principal's, department and the public. For example, some SROs are expected to arrest students for school discipline problems. This expectation sometimes leads to more arrests, which means that the JCCs must with larger caseloads and erroneous cases.

In the community, the officer has more discretion to make decisions about when a juvenile should be arrested. SROs often expect that JCCs will help to send a juvenile who is deserving of jail time to court when in reality JCCs have little control over how a juvenile is sentenced.

With their differing work schedules, SROs and JCCs can have little interaction with each other. This leads to a lack of communication which becomes the major deterrent to building positive and effective relationships. JCCs spend most of their time out of their office working with juveniles and do not get many opportunities to make and return phone calls. SROs are also often found out of their offices, but with pagers and/or cell phones are easier to contact.

Face-to-face meetings of SROs and JCCs would allow them an opportunity to discuss and collaborate about students they are both working to help. SROs can feel left out of the loop on the progress of a juvenile case, and can also feel that their opinions are often overlooked. By ensuring communication throughout the adjudication process, SROs would have a greater understanding of the process and would be better prepared for the outcome of the adjudication.

Sometimes the results of adjudication, no matter how effective the communication is between the SRO and the JCC is, will be upsetting. Many of these disappointments are caused by challenges within the juvenile justice system. One of the major challenges within the system is the gap in time between a filing and adjudication of a juvenile petition.

Juveniles who commit serious offenses are waiting up to six months before they are adjudicated and start receiving services. This process can be frustrating to SROs and JCCs alike, especially if a juvenile is still attending the SRO's school during the interim.

Ways to improve these relationships between SROs and JCCs include job shadowing opportunities; joint trainings; annual meetings with SROs, JCCs and school administrators; giving cell phones to JCCs; allowing SROs to suggest adjudications for juveniles; and more face-to-face meetings. Job shadowing would allow an SRO to follow a JCC around for a day, or vice versa, to learn more about their job position. Joint trainings would give SROs and JCCs a chance to learn more about each other's responsibilities and a chance to discuss ideas that are working across the state.

Annual meetings to discuss the upcoming year with school administrators, SROs and JCCs could be a vital component in creating successful relationships. At these meetings, JCCs can update SROs and school administrators on any students who are attending their school and are currently by served by the juvenile justice system.