In the wake of the West Contra Costa Unified District Board of Education’s decision last month to end contracts for policing services, including the on-campus school resource officer (SRO) program, the Richmond Police Department shared the perspective and experience of one of its former SROs, Officer Savannah Stewart. Officer Stewart is now assigned to RPD’s Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Unit at the Family Justice Center, where she continues to assist youth and families, according to RPD. Before becoming a police officer, she served the community as a police explorer.
By Officer Savannah Stewart
I’ve had a lot of time to listen to others and think about the elimination of the school resource officer (SRO) program. I don’t agree or disagree with this decision. I’m a public servant. My job is to serve the community to the best of my abilities.
People in the community have to decide what they think is best for their communities. So, if the majority of people think we are better off without SROs, then I respect that!
Now with that being said, I’ll share my experience as an SRO with you because I think it’s important that I do. Being a School Resource Officer was one of the best decisions I made in my career so far!
Being on campuses all day allowed me to build RELATIONSHIPS (which is something I constantly hear people say we do need to do more of) with students, staff, parents, grandparents and counselors.
I got to go on field trips with students, help out with workouts after school/summertime and I got to be a MENTOR. After a while, more and more students started to TRUST me. They began to tell me their stories and they shared their pain with me. When they had an issue, sometimes they would come directly to my office (which we know is not the most popular thing to do). Parents began to reach out to me directly for help and resources.
When I went to the elementary schools to visit, all the kids would run up to me with a big smile on their faces. Those are moments I’ll never forget. Some of these kids I would see at RPAL. They would watch me work out or work out with me. One day, a young lady was watching me hit the bag. When I was done she walked up to me and said, “Wow you did good.” Another kid saw me one day and said, “When I grow up, I wanna be a police officer.”
After having these experiences over and over again, I realized how important it was for these kids to see ME (someone who looks like them and is from where they are from) in the position I was in.
Many people think SROs spend the majority of their time arresting students. Yes, unfortunately I had to make arrests on and off campus. But arresting students is not what I spent the majority of my time doing.
Sadly, there are students I worked with that were being sexually and physically abused in the homes they lived in. I’m so happy I was in a position to immediately act and help remove those students from those situations when I was notified.
Since I’ve been out of the SRO unit for a few years, I look back and realize there are a few things I could have done better, and done more of. This is a long journey and I have a long way to go. I’ll never be perfect but I promise to remain humble and never stop learning.