Sixteen “school resource officers” in Georgia’s Gwinnett County are charged with looking after 123,000 students. Their annual budget: $1.8 million. In the past two years, Gwinnett schools’ police force referred nearly 900 offenses to court or juvenile justice authorities, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution/WSB investigation. However, those incidents failed to make it into the school system’s disciplinary database; nor did they make it into the schools’ required state report on disciplinary problems.
Gwinnett District Attorney Danny Porter launched a criminal investigation into how the schools reported disciplinary incidents to the state.
He also will look at whether crimes on campus are always reported to the proper authorities.
“There have been cases where the Gwinnett County Police Department has showed up [responding to a serious incident at a school] and basically have been told, ‘We are going to handle this matter internally,’ and were not allowed access,” Porter said.
That highlights the tension that confronts school officers in the Gwinnett system and elsewhere. As sworn police officers, SROs are obligated to uphold the law; at the same time, common sense requires them to work with school administrators who may not always be inclined to report serious incidents to the proper authorities if that means a child lands in courts or it reflects poorly on a school system. “It’s kind of hard to answer to two masters,” said Karen Gray, director of the Georgia Association of School Resource Officers Inc.