The roles of a school resource officer (SRO) are identified as law enforcement officer, law-related counselor and law-related education teacher. A survey of SROs from across the country by the precursor to the Center for Safer Schools – the Center for the Prevention of School Violence – specifically asked about these roles as well as other activities to determine what SROs are doing in the schools to which they are assigned. (The survey was conducted at a national SRO conference. Sixty-five percent of conference attendees completed a questionnaire as part of a conference workshop.)

The impetus for putting SROs into the schools, of course, revolves around their law enforcement role. Law enforcement defines the training and describes the experience of the police officers and sheriffs' deputies who typically serve as SROs. When asked about the assignment in the schools, SROs indicated that they spend 50 percent of their time on law enforcement duties, including such activities as foot patrols of their school campuses and site inspections to ensure the safety and security of their schools. Reflective of the importance of this role is that 60 percent always wear their law enforcement uniforms and almost all (97 percent) carry their guns while providing service to their schools.

Thirty percent of the SROs' time is spent fulfilling their law-related counseling role. Ninety-eight percent of the SROs who responded said they maintain an "open-door" policy when it comes to interacting with students. This helps them fulfill their law-related counseling role. A modal number of five formal "counseling" sessions per week was identified. Additionally, the SROs indicated that they refer students to other service agencies if additional assistance is needed. Some 94 percent responded that they make referrals to social services, 79 percent to public health agencies, 51 percent to legal aid, and 45 percent to private service agencies.

Twenty percent of the SROs' time is spent on the law-related education teaching role. A median number of two classroom sessions per week was identified by responding SROs. Other research on SROs reveals that these classroom sessions usually cover law-related topics about which many students have great interest.

An important finding in the survey is that these roles appear to evolve as an SRO spends time in his/her school. For those SROs who are newly placed in schools, the role of law enforcement officer takes precedence. As time goes by, this role does not necessarily reduce, but the other roles, specifically that of law-related counselor, become more important. This likely reflects the familiarity and trust that is created through time, particularly if the SRO's assignment in the school is a stable one.

The research based upon what the SROs say themselves certainly indicates that they are doing a lot in the schools where they are present. Through the activities they carry out and the roles they fill, school resource officers become an additional resource to which everyone associated with the school can turn. Those who are familiar with what they are doing see them not only as a resource, but as a fundamental resource which schools will not be able to do without in the future.