ORLANDO, Fla. – 2021 was one of the most successful years ever for Orlando Police Department school resource officers.
According to the department, it finished the year with zero use-of-force incidents against students in all 48 schools.
Lt. Jean Gabriel, the SRO commander, attributes the success in part to bi-monthly meetings.
“Whatever’s happening in one school is happening in another school,” Gabriel said.
Every two weeks, all 53 SROs at all 48 Orlando schools gather virtually and share with each other their stories and their successes with students.
One SRO shared he rewards students with a basketball game if they come to class every day and turn in their homework.
Another SRO said he keeps snacks in his office to encourage kids to stop in and chat and get to know him.
And another SRO said she greets students and parents every morning at drop off.
“De-escalation does not mean just when there’s a physical confrontation, it’s something we should think about all the time. Building rapport,” Gabriel said.
Gabriel started the virtual meetings when the pandemic started and soon discovered it’s the best way to meet because officers don’t have to leave their schools.
“Together we find a common solution,” Gabriel said. “We’re teaching each other as well.”
To be clear, no use of force means not using force against a student. Gabriel said sometimes his SROs are forced to go hands-on to restrain a student, holding a student.
Gabriel said an SRO recently had to hold a student from causing harm to herself or anyone else.
“I saw that video, she was able to scream, she banged on the door, she wasn’t hurting herself, she wasn’t destroying property,” Gabriel said.
Eventually, the student calmed down.
But before it gets to that point and to try and avoid a confrontation, Gabriel said the most important thing SROs do is building a rapport with the students, showing they’re more than just a badge and a gun, and getting to know the kids.
OPD has posted several videos on its Twitter page showing SROs running a race with students, even buying them shoes and jackets. On Halloween, they dress up in costumes.
“We have no choice,” Gabriel said. “Things are changing around us and we have to be, whether we like it or not, we have to be able to wear a different hat.”
Gabriel said another benefit of building a rapport with students is they’re discovering students’ needs, and in some cases that students are homeless.
SROs regularly arrange housing, clothing, and even haircuts for the children.