Date of Award

Summer 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Sociology & Criminal Justice

Committee Director

Allison T. Chappell

Committee Member

Randy Gainey

Committee Member

David C. May


The implementation of school resource officer programs has been a popular response to school-based violence in the United States. Parents, school officials, and policy makers believe that police presence makes students and staff feel safer on campus, deters school-based crime and violence, and creates positive relationships between youth and the police. However, there is a growing concern that school resource officers hypercriminalize trivial student misbehavior, contribute to a culture of youth punishment and control, and are instrumental in facilitating a link between schools and the juvenile justice system. Despite the rapid rate at which school resource officer programs have expanded over the last two decades and the significant amount of federal and state funds that have been allocated for their implementation, very little is known about how school resource officers operate in schools across the United States. The current work aims to gain a better understanding of how school resource officers spend their time, the extent to which school characteristics explain the variation in their behaviors, the factors influencing their involvement in school discipline, and how their behavior is shaped by the presence and availability of schools’ informal social control measures. Since school resource officers are likely to remain a permanent fixture in schools across the country, it is necessary to better understand their role within the school setting. Utilizing data from the Department of Education’s School Survey on Crime and Safety (2015), supplemented with qualitative interviews from a sample (n=20) of school resource officers, the current research aims to fill this gap in the literature by applying Donald Black’s (1976) Behavior of Law as a theoretical framework. Some findings were consistent with the notion that school resource officers engage in behaviors that may contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline, but other findings suggested that many school resource officers are willing to seek alternative social control measures in an effort to keep students out of the juvenile justice system. This highlights the importance of selecting officers for this assignment who are oriented toward working with youth and are committed to using alternatives to formal juvenile justice sanctions, while only referring students to the juvenile justice system as a last resort. Additionally, these findings suggest that although schools are considered to be a microcosm of society, the law oftentimes manifests itself differently within schools relative to the rest of society due to the intimate nature of the school setting. Further, it is important that police departments and school districts maintain a shared understanding of the roles of school resource officers and that schools should not be policed in the same way in which streets are policed. Finally, school resource officers should be expected to take advantage of the readily available alternative social control measures that are unique to the school setting so as not to perpetuate the school-to-prison pipeline.


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