Burbank Police Report to City Council and School Board About Student Resource Officers

New School Resource Officer Dustin Rodriguez greets students at the opening bell on the first day of school in August 2019. (Photo by Ross A Benson)

During the June 8th joint meeting between Burbank School Board and Burbank City Council, Police Sergeant Stephen Turner made a presentation giving a report on what Student Resource Officers (SROs) are and the role that they serve in Burbank schools.

According to Sgt. Turner, the primary role of a Student Resource Officer is to be a resource for students.  “Focus on the title,” said Turner, “school resource officers are first and foremost a resource.”

According to Sgt. Turner’s presentation, the precise responsibilities taken up by SROs in schools are maintaining strong relationships with all Burbank schools, doing student wellness checks, and investigating suspected child abuse reports (SCARs).  “Suspected child abuse reports represent roughly half of all SRO activities,” said Turner.

( Superintendent Matt Hill chats with Principal Dr. Tom Crowther and SRO Dustin Rodriguez. Photo by Ross A Benson)

Each SRO handles various calls at 28 different campuses all throughout Burbank, representing 15,000 students.  In order to become a SRO, one must have 2 years of experience as a police officer.  SROs promote various initiatives on Burbank campuses, with the most recent one being the anti-vaping program started up in the fall of 2019.

According to Sgt. Turner’s presentation, although SROs primarily act as a resource for students, they also facilitate discipline on campuses.  During the 2019-2020 school year, SROs arrested 2 students, issued citations to 8 students, and counseled/advised 223 students.  This was down from the previous school year, with SROs making 10 arrests, issuing 9 citations, and advising 473 students during the 2018-2019 school year.

With the continually escalating threat of school shootings across America, Burbank SROs have been put on the front lines in dealing with students who are expressing concerning behavioral attitudes.  Furthermore, SROs now have access to vehicles without police markings in dealing with mental issues and trauma kits that will make it easier to deal with victims in the case of an active shooter.

Some on the school board and city council brought up present issues with the program during the meeting.  School board member Steve Ferguson conveyed his concern over the program’s handling of mentally ill students; “[SROs] can’t seem to get students dealing with suicide ideation in an unmarked car,” said Ferguson.  

Vice Mayor Jess Talamantes emphasized the need for documented training for SROs.  In conversation with Sgt. Turner, the Vice Mayor asked, “in regards to mental health training, how much extra training is given to SROs?”  Sgt. Turner responded, “SROs are trained to the same extent as first responders.  They often reach out to the [BPD’s] Mental Health Evaluation Team for additional resources if need be.”

School board member Emily Weisberg referenced survey data collected by the Burbank police commission that noted the lack of safety felt by students of color in the presence of on-campus police officers and SROs.  “We need students to understand the role of SROs,” said Weisberg, who went on to say, “the discussion of SROs in schools shouldn’t be politicized.  However, the needs and safety of students of color should be taken into consideration in this discussion.”

Both the city council and school board reached a consensus that they would create a working group with the police department in order to get SROs to be put to better use and to ensure that they aren’t feared by any students in the future.