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Spotlight 1: Prevalence, Type, and Responsibilities of Security Staff in K–12 Public Schools
(Last Updated: March 2018)

During school year 2015–16, a lower percentage of primary schools than of secondary schools reported having security staff present at school at least once a week (45 vs. 72 percent). A higher percentage of primary schools reported the presence of security staff in 2015–16 than in 2005–06 (45 vs. 26 percent). Similarly, secondary schools reported a higher percentage of security staff present at school in 2015–16 than in 2005–06 (72 vs. 63 percent).

The use of school-based security personnel not only affects the level of reported school crime, it may also affect the school environment. For example, the presence of security staff may be associated with schools' reporting of crime incidents, and with staff and students' perceptions of the school environment (Na and Gottfredson 2011; Jackson 2002). Schools employ different types of security staff, and the responsibilities of these security staff vary. Understanding the roles and responsibilities of school security staff provides important context for evaluating school crime and safety.

This spotlight uses data from the 2015–16 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS:2016) to examine the prevalence and types of security staff in K–12 public schools.2 It also provides information on the specific roles and responsibilities of security staff while at school. As in previous administrations, SSOCS:2016 collected information on the number of different types of security staff present at school. However, the 2015–16 questionnaire only asked respondents to provide additional information on the roles and responsibilities of sworn law enforcement officers at school, such as whether they carry a firearm and whether they perform other specific activities like security enforcement and patrol. Sworn law enforcement officers include School Resource Officers (SROs)3 and officers who are not SROs. In this spotlight, the analysis on the roles and responsibilities of sworn law enforcement officers is restricted to schools that reported having at least one sworn law enforcement officer present at school at least once a week. Officers' roles and responsibilities are discussed in four contexts below: (1) the times they are present at school; (2) the items they routinely wear or carry; (3) the activities they participate in; and (4) any formalized policies or written documents schools or districts have that outline their roles, responsibilities, and expectations.

The SSOCS:2016 questionnaire asked schools to report the number of SROs, sworn law enforcement officers who were not SROs, and other security staff who were present at their school at least once a week. During the 2015–16 school year, 57 percent of public schools reported having any security staff present at school and 48 percent reported having any sworn law enforcement officers present (table S1.1). Forty-two percent of public schools reported that they had an SRO present, while 11 percent reported that they had a sworn law enforcement officer who was not an SRO present. Twenty percent of public schools reported having security guards or other security personnel present. Lower percentages of primary4 schools than of secondary5 schools reported having each type of security staff present at school at least once a week.


Figure S1.1. Percentage of public schools with security staff present at school at least once a week, by school level and type of security staff: School years 2005–06 and 2015–16

Figure S1.1. Percentage of public schools with security staff present at school at least once a week, by school level and type of security staff: School years 2005–06 and 2015–16

1 Primary schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not higher than grade 3 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 8.
2 Secondary schools include both middle and high schools as well as combined schools. Middle schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not lower than grade 4 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 9. High schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not lower than grade 9 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 12. Combined schools have any combination of grades (including K–12) that is not defined specifically as primary, middle, or high school.
3 Schools with more than one type of security staff were counted only once under "Any security staff."
4 School Resource Officers (SROs) include all career sworn law enforcement officers with arrest authority who have specialized training and are assigned to work in collaboration with school organizations. Under "Any sworn law enforcement officers," schools that reported having both SROs and other sworn law enforcement officers were counted only once.
NOTE: Responses were provided by the principal or the person most knowledgeable about crime and safety issues at the school. "At school" was defined to include activities happening in school buildings, on school grounds, on school buses, and at places that hold school-sponsored events or activities.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2005–06 and 2015–16 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2006 and 2016.


Earlier years of the SSOCS survey also included some questions about school security staff, allowing for an examination of change over time. The percentage of public schools reporting the presence of any security staff at least once a week was higher during the 2015–16 school year than during the 2005–06 school year (57 vs. 42 percent). The percentage of schools reporting the presence of any sworn law enforcement officers was also higher in 2015–16 than in 2005–06 (48 vs. 36 percent), as was the percentage of schools reporting the presence of an SRO (42 vs. 32 percent). Similar patterns were observed over time at both primary and secondary schools. For example, higher percentages of primary schools reported the presence of any security staff in 2015–16 than in 2005–06 (45 vs. 26 percent; figure S1.1 and table S1.1). Primary schools also reported higher percentages in 2015–16 than in 2005–06 of any sworn law enforcement officer (36 vs. 21 percent), any officer who was an SRO (30 vs. 18 percent) and any officer who was not an SRO (9 vs. 5 percent). Similarly, secondary schools reported higher percentages in 2015–16 than in 2005–06 of any security staff (72 vs. 63 percent), any sworn law enforcement officer (65 vs. 58 percent), and any officer who was an SRO (58 vs. 52 percent).


Figure S1.2. Percentage of public schools with security staff present at school at least once a week, by school level, type of security staff, and enrollment size: School year 2015–16

Figure S1.2. Percentage of public schools with security staff present at school at least once a week, by school level, type of security staff, and enrollment size: School year 2015–16

! Interpret data with caution. The coefficient of variation (CV) for this estimate is between 30 and 50 percent.
‡ Reporting standards not met. Either there are too few cases for a reliable estimate or the coefficient of variation (CV) is 50 percent or greater.
1 Primary schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not higher than grade 3 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 8.
2 Secondary schools include both middle and high schools as well as combined schools. Middle schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not lower than grade 4 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 9. High schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not lower than grade 9 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 12. Combined schools have any combination of grades (including K–12) that is not defined specifically as primary, middle, or high school.
3 Schools with more than one type of security staff were counted only once under "Any security staff."
4 School Resource Officers (SROs) include all career sworn law enforcement officers with arrest authority who have specialized training and are assigned to work in collaboration with school organizations. Under "Any sworn law enforcement officers," schools that reported having both SROs and other sworn law enforcement officers were counted only once.
NOTE: Responses were provided by the principal or the person most knowledgeable about crime and safety issues at the school. "At school" was defined to include activities happening in school buildings, on school grounds, on school buses, and at places that hold school-sponsored events or activities.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2005–06 and 2015–16 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2006 and 2016.


The presence of security staff in primary and secondary schools can be further examined by school characteristics. Among primary schools, few measurable differences in the percentages of the various security staff present at least once a week were seen by school characteristics during the 2015–16 school year. However, there was some variation by enrollment size (figure S1.2 and table S1.1): the percentage of primary schools with less than 300 students who reported having an SRO present was lower than the corresponding percentages for primary schools with 300 to 499 students and 500 to 999 students.

Among secondary schools, there was greater variation observed by school characteristics. During the 2015–16 school year, higher percentages of secondary schools with larger enrollments reported having security staff, any sworn law enforcement officers, and officers who were SROs present at least once a week compared with schools with smaller enrollments. For example, 84 percent of secondary schools with 1,000 or more students reported having an SRO present compared with 30 percent of schools with less than 300 students, 51 percent of schools with 300 to 499 students, and 65 percent of schools with 500 to 999 students. Additionally, higher percentages of secondary schools in suburbs and cities (82 and 86 percent, respectively) reported having any security staff present, compared with schools in rural areas and towns (55 and 69 percent, respectively). Looking at the percent combined enrollment of minority students,6 higher percentages of secondary schools with 20 to 50 percent minority students or more than 50 percent minority students reported the presence of any security staff at least once a week (73 and 82 percent, respectively), compared with secondary schools with less than 5 percent minority students or 5 to 20 percent minority students (58 and 63 percent, respectively).


Figure S1.3. Among public schools with any sworn law enforcement officers present at school at least once a week, percentage with officers present at specific times and percentage with any officers present for all instructional hours every day, by times present and school level: School year 2015–16

Figure S1.3. Among public schools with any sworn law enforcement officers present at school at least once a week, percentage with officers present at specific times and percentage with any officers present for all instructional hours every day, by times present and school level: School year 2015–16

1 The questionnaire provided the following examples of selected school activities: athletic and social events, open houses, and science fairs.
2 Primary schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not higher than grade 3 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 8.
3 Secondary schools include both middle and high schools as well as combined schools. Middle schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not lower than grade 4 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 9. High schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not lower than grade 9 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 12. Combined schools have any combination of grades (including K–12) that is not defined specifically as primary, middle, or high school.
NOTE: Sworn law enforcement officers include School Resource Officers as well as other sworn law enforcement officers who are not School Resource Officers. School Resource Officers are sworn law enforcement officers with arrest authority who have specialized training and are assigned to work in collaboration with school organizations. Responses were provided by the principal or the person most knowledgeable about crime and safety issues at the school. "At school" was defined to include activities happening in school buildings, on school grounds, on school buses, and at places that hold school-sponsored events or activities. Schools could answer "yes" to more than one question about the presence of officers at various times. Schools indicating the presence of officers at multiple times are included in each applicable category. For example, a school that indicated officers were present at any time during school hours at least once a week and also indicated officers were present for all instructional hours every day would be included in both of these categories.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015–16 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2016.


In addition to the prevalence and type of security staff present in schools, it is also important to know at what times these officers were actually present at school. During the 2015–16 school year, primary and secondary schools reported using sworn law enforcement officers at various times during and outside of school hours. For example, among primary schools with any sworn law enforcement officer present at least once a week, the percentage of schools that reported having an officer present when school activities were not occurring (37 percent) was lower than the percentage of schools reporting that an officer was present at selected activities7 (60 percent) and when students were arriving or leaving (67 percent; figure S1.3 and table S1.2). The same pattern was observed for secondary schools with any sworn law enforcement officer: 45 percent of secondary schools reported that a sworn law enforcement officer was present when school activities were not occurring compared with 87 percent that reported that officers were present at selected activities and 88 percent that reported that officers were present while students were arriving or leaving.

For all specific times asked about on the survey, a lower percentage of primary schools than of secondary schools reported having an officer present. Additionally, 13 percent of primary schools with any sworn law enforcement officer had an officer present for all instructional hours every day that the school was in session compared with 46 percent of secondary schools.8


Figure S1.4. Among public schools with any sworn law enforcement officers present at school at least once a week, percentage with any officers who routinely carry or wear specific items, by school level, type of item, and urbanicity: School year 2015–16

Figure S1.4. Among public schools with any sworn law enforcement officers present at school at least once a week, percentage with any officers who routinely carry or wear specific items, by school level, type of item, and urbanicity: School year 2015–16

! Interpret data with caution. The coefficient of variation (CV) for this estimate is between 30 and 50 percent.
‡ Reporting standards not met. Either there are too few cases for a reliable estimate or the coefficient of variation (CV) is 50 percent or greater.
1 Primary schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not higher than grade 3 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 8.
2 Secondary schools include both middle and high schools as well as combined schools. Middle schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not lower than grade 4 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 9. High schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not lower than grade 9 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 12. Combined schools have any combination of grades (including K–12) that is not defined specifically as primary, middle, or high school.
3 The questionnaire cited a Taser gun as an example of a stun gun.
4 The questionnaire provided the following examples of chemical aerosol sprays: Mace and pepper spray.
NOTE: Sworn law enforcement officers include School Resource Officers as well as other sworn law enforcement officers who are not School Resource Officers. School Resource Officers are sworn law enforcement officers with arrest authority who have specialized training and are assigned to work in collaboration with school organizations. Responses were provided by the principal or the person most knowledgeable about crime and safety issues at the school. "At school" was defined to include activities happening in school buildings, on school grounds, on school buses, and at places that hold school-sponsored events or activities.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015–16 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2016.


The types of items routinely carried or worn by sworn law enforcement officers (e.g., stun guns, chemical aerosol sprays, firearms, body cameras) while at school during the 2015–16 school year varied by school level. Among schools with any sworn law enforcement officer present at least once a week, a lower percentage of primary schools than of secondary schools reported having an officer who routinely carried a firearm (86 vs. 93 percent) and chemical aerosol sprays (59 vs. 72 percent; figure S1.4 and table S1.3). However, among the items carried or worn by sworn law enforcement officers, a firearm was the most common item routinely carried or worn by officers at both primary and secondary schools. Conversely, the item least commonly carried or worn by officers in both primary and secondary schools was a body camera; 13 percent of primary schools and 19 percent of secondary schools with any sworn law enforcement officer had an officer who wore a body camera.

In terms of officers carrying firearms while at school, there was some variation by school characteristics for both primary and secondary schools. For example, among secondary schools with any sworn law enforcement officer present at least once a week, a lower percentage of schools in cities reported having an officer who carried a firearm (87 percent) compared with schools in towns (97 percent) and schools in suburban and rural areas (95 percent each). Additionally, a lower percentage of secondary schools where 76 percent or more of the students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch reported having an officer who routinely carried a firearm (89 percent) than schools where 25 percent or less of the students or 26 to 50 percent of the students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (95 percent each).9


Figure S1.5. Among public schools with any sworn law enforcement officers present at school at least once a week, percentage with officers participating in selected activities, by type of activity and school level: School year 2015–16

Figure S1.5. Among public schools with any sworn law enforcement officers present at school at least once a week, percentage with officers participating in selected activities, by type of activity and school level: School year 2015–16

1 The questionnaire provided the following examples of courses or training: drug-related education, criminal law, or crime prevention courses.
2 The questionnaire provided the following example of providing information about legal definitions for recording or reporting purposes: defining assault for school authorities.
3 Primary schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not higher than grade 3 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 8.
4 Secondary schools include both middle and high schools as well as combined schools. Middle schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not lower than grade 4 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 9. High schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not lower than grade 9 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 12. Combined schools have any combination of grades (including K–12) that is not defined specifically as primary, middle, or high school.
NOTE: Sworn law enforcement officers include School Resource Officers as well as other sworn law enforcement officers who are not School Resource Officers. School Resource Officers are sworn law enforcement officers with arrest authority who have specialized training and are assigned to work in collaboration with school organizations. Responses were provided by the principal or the person most knowledgeable about crime and safety issues at the school. "At school" was defined to include activities happening in school buildings, on school grounds, on school buses, and at places that hold school-sponsored events or activities.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015–16 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2016.


SSOCS:2016 also asked schools with any sworn law enforcement officer present at least once a week whether sworn law enforcement officers participated in ten specific activities while at school during the 2015–16 school year. With the exception of teaching a law-related education course, a lower percentage of primary schools than of secondary schools reported having an officer who participated in each activity (figure S1.5 and table S1.4).

The most common activities that officers participated in varied by school level; however, when comparing the five most prevalent officer activities reported by primary schools and secondary schools, there were three activities common across both school levels: coordinating with local police and emergency teams, enforcing security/patrolling, and identifying problems in the school and proactively seeking solutions. Among primary schools with any sworn law enforcement officer present at least once a week, 73 percent had an officer who coordinated with local police and emergency teams; 67 percent had an officer who enforced security/patrolled; and 64 percent had an officer who identified problems in the school and proactively sought solutions. The other two most common activities in primary schools were mentoring students and controlling motor vehicle traffic (both 59 percent). Among secondary schools with any sworn law enforcement officer, 93 percent had an officer who coordinated with local police and emergency teams; 88 percent had an officer who enforced security/patrolled; and 81 percent had an officer who provided information to school authorities about legal definitions. The other two most common activities in secondary schools were identifying problems in the school and proactively seeking solutions (81 percent) and recording or reporting discipline problems to school authorities (79 percent). Among both primary and secondary schools with any sworn law enforcement officer, the least common activity reported was having an officer who taught a law-related education course or training for students.

Schools that reported having any sworn law enforcement officers present at their school at least once a week were asked if, during the 2015–16 school year, their school or district had any formalized policies or written documents (such as a Memorandum of Use or Memorandum of Agreement) that outlined the roles, responsibilities, and expectations of sworn law enforcement officers at school. Among schools with any sworn law enforcement officers, a lower percentage of primary schools (51 percent) than of secondary schools (70 percent) reported their school or district had such policies or documents (table S1.5). Of primary schools with these policies, 56 percent of schools reported that the policy defined the role of officers related to school discipline, 53 percent reported it defined the role of officers related to reporting criminal offenses to a law enforcement agency, 48 percent reported it defined the role of officers related to making arrests on school grounds, 38 percent reported it defined the role of officers in the use of physical restraints, and 32 percent reported it defined the role of officers in the use of firearms. Among secondary schools with these policies, 71 percent reported that the policy defined the role of officers related to reporting criminal offenses to a law enforcement agency, 63 percent reported it defined the role of officers related to making arrests on school grounds, 59 percent reported it defined the role of officers related to school discipline, 49 percent reported it defined the role of officers in the use of physical restraints, and 45 percent reported it defined the role of officers in the use of firearms.


This spotlight indicator features data on a selected issue of current policy interest. For more information: Tables S1.1, S1.2, S1.3, S1.4, and S1.5, and Diliberti, Jackson, and Kemp (2017), (https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2017/2017122.pdf).


2 The School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS) is a nationally representative sample of the nation's public schools designed to provide estimates of school crime, discipline, disorder, programs, and policies. SSOCS:2016 was supported by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) as part of its Comprehensive School Safety Initiative, which was developed in response to a 2014 congressional appropriation to conduct research about school safety. At the request of NIJ, the security staff section on the 2016 questionnaire was re-designed. The revised section focuses specifically on sworn law enforcement officers (including SROs) and was expanded to collect data on emerging areas of interest, such as whether schools formally outline the responsibilities of these officers while at school.
3 School Resource Officers (SROs) are career sworn law enforcement officers with arrest authority who have specialized training and are assigned to work in collaboration with school organizations.
4 Primary schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not higher than grade 3 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 8.
5 Secondary schools include both middle and high schools as well as combined schools. Middle schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not lower than grade 4 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 9. High schools are defined as schools in which the lowest grade is not lower than grade 9 and the highest grade is not higher than grade 12. Combined schools have any combination of grades (including K–12) that is not defined specifically as primary, middle, or high school.
6 Percent combined enrollment of minority students is defined as the combined enrollment of Black, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native students, and students of Two or more races.
7 The questionnaire provided the following examples of selected school activities: athletic and social events, open houses, and science fairs.
8 Respondents were instructed to include officers who are used as temporary coverage while regularly assigned officers are performing duties external to the school (such as attending court) or during these officers' personal leave time. Respondents were instructed to check "No" if their school does not have officer coverage while regularly assigned officers are performing duties external to the school (such as attending court) or during these officers' personal leave time.
9 The percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch programs is a proxy measure of school poverty. For more information on eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch and its relationship to poverty, see NCES blog post "Free or reduced price lunch: A proxy for poverty? "