How police officers maintain order in a school setting: an ethnographic study

This thesis reports findings from an ethnographic study of how police officers maintain social order in two high schools. The project looks at the experiences of two School Resource Officers (SROs) located in two different communities. One SRO is located in community A and has had a substantially shorter time as an SRO than the officer in community B who has lengthy experience in his school setting. In both schools, I examined the interaction strategies used by police officers to maintain order. I examine the ways in which differences in police officer interaction strategies maintain order without creating adversarial relations. This study assumes that the community policing school resource officer program is a product of social interaction. One issue addressed by the study is whether highly structured or flexible styles of policing is more effective in maintaining order without creating an adversarial atmosphere between the police and students. I had the opportunity to observe and collect data on a police officer's daily experiences in working with youth as their supervisors opened the doors for me to shadow their officers and observe their daily activity. For four months, I observed and conducted informal interviews with two different high schools, one with little experience and the other with several years of experience. In addition, my research reveals common and different styles of how the officers maintain order. In general, my research shows that both officers employ pre-emptive practices to prevent problems and a range reactive strategies to restore order when pre-emptive strategies prove ineffective. Pre-emptive strategies include patrolling the grounds, befriending students, broadening the interaction frame, and keeping school staff on the same page. The officers also "sense," based on their experience, when a situation arises that calls for the use of reactive strategies such as taking necessary steps, promising consequences, getting tough, and giving warnings to maintain order on school grounds. Finally, this study finds that implementing either strategy is not an easy task for the officers because of their social locations between the school and the police department. On the one hand, they have to adhere to the expectations, informal rules, and policies of the school system and on the other hand they are accountable to the formal and structured rules and policies of the police department.