State considers mandatory School Resource Officer training in wake of viral video

State considers mandatory School Resource Officer training in wake of viral video
Image from the controversial video showing a Richland County SRO flipping a student out of her desk.
Image from the controversial video showing a Richland County SRO flipping a student out of her desk.

(WMBF) - School Resource Officers are hired to protect students and staff, but when authorities fired a Richland County, South Carolina deputy last month for excessive use of force on a student, many began to question the training the officers go through and policies they follow.

Anchor Michael Maely investigated the training required for SROs in South Carolina, and how the state is looking to change it.

It was a video that shocked many people—a school resource officer seeming to grab a girl from a desk and throw her across a classroom. That video brought up questions about how SROs in South Carolina are trained, even from the state's top education leader.

"Clearly that was over the top and cannot happen," said State Superintendent Molly Spearman. "I think he injured the trust students have in law enforcement"

In the days after the video surfaced and the Richland County SRO was fired, Spearman said in an interview that she's not sure if the state's training is where it should be.

"We need to review the training for our resource officers – I've learned today our training may not be up to national standards – We need to improve that," Spearman said.

After that statement, we took a closer look at SRO training in the state. We went to Dillon County, where nearly every school has an SRO. Dillon High School students like Marnija Lewis and Harley Mincey get used to resource officers in the hallways from an early age.

"We even got to the point where we called our SRO 'Officer Friendly,' so it was really normal," Lewis said.

"Always having a resource officer there, it always makes you feel safe," Mincey added. "We're kinda used to it, seeing them walking around school, making sure everything's straight."

First Sgt. Marion Ford, with the Dillon County Sheriff's Office, has broken up his fair share of fights in his 18 years as a Dillon High SRO and SRO Program Supervisor.

"I've taken punches, been kicked in the back, been punched in the mouth in the back side," Sgt. Ford said.

But he says for the most part, first bumps and greetings happen daily in the halls of Dillon High. Dillon's SRO program launched with a three-year grant in 1998. After success, district leaders approved an extension, to keep officers in the schools.

"I have parents when they don't see the squad car there, they'll call, because they feel safer," said Dillon School District 4 Superintendent Ray Rogers. "When they drive off from  that school and they know an SRO officer is on that campus."

But what sort of training are those officers required to have? The answer: none.

While SROs in South Carolina have to keep their law enforcement certifications up to date, there is no required special training for officers who work in schools.

Ford said most of the resource officers in Dillon County have taken SRO training or are awaiting training at the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy. Ford says his official SRO training was 18 years ago, but he attends an SRO training conference each year, and he's all for additional training.

"We're always being trained as law enforcement officers," Sgt. Ford said. "We have to update our training on a yearly basis; all the training we can get is helpful, so I'm all for…if there's training out there, specifically for SROs, I'm for it."

We learned the deputy in this video, Ben Fields, had 40 hours of SRO training in July of 2010 at the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy.  But Spearman wonders if the optional SRO training offered for officers in South Carolina is enough.

"We're also reviewing those national standards," Spearman said. "We have folks coming in from the National School Resource Officer Association, State Association, and the US Department of Education. We're learning to see what the difference is, and what do we need to encourage that's added to training?"

Spearman has formed a task force to find that answer.

However, there is not exactly a national standard either. Though the Department of Justice supports training options, like those the National Association of School Resource Officers offers.

That group lists a 40-hour SRO training course, like the 40-hour course Deputy Fields took. However, we learned the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy, now offers a two-week class itself.

Spearman says SRO training should be mandatory for all SRO officers.  "I think we do need to have some fundamental programs that all resource officers are required to take before they go in and work in a school setting," she said.

In the meantime, this viral video continues to create conversation about resource officers in schools. As for the Dillon County students we spoke to, surprise at the violence in the video was their first reaction.

"I was just shocked," Mincey said. "I mean, I didn't think something could go that far, just as a student asked to leave a classroom, it was a big shocker, you know?"

"She should have said enough is enough,' Lewis  said. "The officer should have remained calm and followed protocol."

Both students said they feel their school resource officer would have handled a similar situation much differently.

Superintendent Spearman wants to make sure that's the case. "We need to do a better job of training resource officers," she said.

In Horry County, there are 16 SROs. Horry County Police said most of their officers have taken or will take an SRO course soon through the SC Justice Academy. Myrtle Beach has two SROs, both of whom have taken this training course.

Take an in-depth look at the SRO training course offered by the SC Justice Academy in the documents and links below, and watch extended interview segments with Dillon District 4 Superintendent Rogers and Dillon SRO Sgt. Marion Ford:


Click here to view a PDF file showing the hiring and termination details of School Resource Officer Ben Fields, who made national headlines when he was caught on camera slamming a student's desk and dragging her

Click here to view a PDF the general outline for the SC Criminal Justice Academy SRO Training


Here is the website for the SC Criminal Justice Academy

Here is the link to another agency which offers training for SROs.

This PDF document compares what is offered by the two programs.

Extended Interview Video:

Local SRO explains how he would handle it:

Dillon Superintendent - Ongoing discussion about how to get better:

Dillon Superintendent - Never know what you're walking into:

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