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Tying shoes, wiping away tears

The role of an SRO goes way beyond ensuring school safety  

Mantua School Resource Officer James Fellon

The Mantua school district will shortly bid farewell to James Fellon, its School Resource Officer, otherwise known as an SRO.

The district shared the news while acknowledging that Fellon’s service went beyond protecting the township’s schools, from helping a child tie his shoe to wiping away tears. The SRO role isn’t just about safety and policing, though both are crucial. It’s also about being a familiar presence and source of comfort in school hallways. 

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Police officers in the SRO role are specifically trained – including in crisis response – and equipped to use community-oriented policing concepts, according to the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO). Schools are expected to be involved in the selection of an SRO, who should have at least three years of law-enforcement experience and is often retired from the police force, as is the case in New Jersey.

“They are adjunct members of the school community, role models, trusted adults and mentors to students and staff,” notes the New Jersey School Boards Association. “They are a liaison between the police department, school administrators and the local community.”

An SRO often – but now always, as is the case in lower grades – has arrest powers, and about 90% of them nationwide are armed or carry other restraints such as handcuffs, according to NASRO. Although school policing has been around since at least the late 1950s, it expanded notably in the 1990s due to concerns about rising rates of juvenile crime as well as mass shootings that began with Columbine in 1999, according to Education Week.

At the end of the decade, the U.S. Department of Justice began awarding grants to fund SROs through its COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) Schools program, resulting by some estimates in more than $700 million going to districts between 1999 and 2005, Education Week notes. While that particular grant has ended, districts can still receive federal grants.

At the end of the 2019-’20 school year, there were about 23,400 SROs in the U.S., according to a 2023 report published by the justice department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. 

Outside of protection and safety, an SRO is expected to help improve learning opportunities and experiences, according to Education Week, by getting to know students and building relationships with kids through informal conversation and school functions. That’s why past coaching or mentoring experience; good communication and interpersonal skills; an understanding of social media and child development; and a positive attitude are among requirements for the role, according to protectingourstudents.com.

Meanwhile, in Mantua, Fellon will be joined by SRO Officer Carmen Rabottino in taking leave of the school, and two new SROs have been approved by township council, Mayor Robert Zimmerman told constituents in his Dec. 7 message in The Sun. One is a retired Salem County sergeant and the other is a retired Logan Township detective and former SWAT team negotiator.

As for Fellon, the township had this to say: “We will miss you, Officer Fellon. And thank you for everything.”


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