The Peel Regional Police $9-million School Resource Officer (SRO) program is reducing crime and bullying says a Carleton University study. The extensive, two-year analysis surveyed nearly 1,300 students and conducted 100 interviews with SROs, their bosses and school administrators in five Peel Region high schools. The researchers also reviewed daily records and shadowed SROs during their working hours on 10 occasions.

While the study suggests that all students realize measurable benefits, those who have been victims of bullying and/or violence (16 per cent of students surveyed) reported feeling significantly safer after experiencing the program for five months. They felt less stressed, missed less school, were better able to learn and were mentally healthier.

Interviews showed school administrators worry most about the impact of bullying, especially cyberbullying, as well as drugs, theft and assault in their schools, but the presence of SROs reduces concerns about these issues. School staff also benefit from police support and spend less time on disciplinary matters and property damage. And because SROs are more likely to recommend diversion when appropriate, students can often avoid criminal charges.

The presence of police increases the chance that students, especially those with mental health issues, will get the help they need from social services and health-care systems. The program also reduces pressure on the police front lines and gives officers the chance to acquire a wide range of skills critical to effective police work in the communities they serve. The program allows officers to build positive and trusting relationships with students, administrators and other members of the community. Half of the administrators interviewed felt it was problematic that SROs are moved every two to three years, given the close relationships that develop, and some felt the program should be expanded to middle schools in the region.

The SRO program was also found to provide extensive social and economic benefits, estimated at 11 times the cost. A social return on investment analysis (SROI) calculated diverse benefits for all those involved valued at $11.13 for every dollar spent on the program, which includes 60 SROs covering all 66 Peel Region high schools under both public and Catholic school boards. Eight sergeants, four staff sergeants, as well as nine civilians are also affiliated with the program, which began about 20 years ago. The SROI for the Peel program is high, since social programs typically yield $3 to $5 of social and economic value for each dollar spent.

The independent report was initiated by Carleton professors, Linda Duxbury (Sprott School of Business) and Craig Bennell (Department of Psychology).

“I’m happy to hear that the research validates the program’s positive impact within our community,” said Peel Region Police Chief Jennifer Evans. “We are committed to maintaining the strong partnerships we have with both the Peel District School Board and the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board.”

The entire report, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, is available at carleton.ca/peel.