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Washington state adds strict requirements for school resource officers

88 of Washington state's 321 school districts have a police officer or deputy serving as a SRO. That's 27% of districts.

PUYALLUP, Wash. — When Carly Cappetto took the oath with the Pierce County Sheriff's Department, she knew she wanted to do something positive.

So when Cappetto had the opportunity to work in the schools as a School Resource Officer (SRO), she jumped at the chance.

"I don't look at myself as a police officer," Cappetto said. "A lot of times as an SRO, I see myself as an educator, as a teacher."

Deputy Cappetto says her time is split between eight different schools in the Puyallup School District and her job can be full of surprises. One day she may be investigating an alleged cybercrime or school threat. The next day she may be mentoring young minds.

"I worked around the clock recently tracking down a cyber threat," Cappetto said. '"They are kids. And they are learning just like anybody else is learning. They need role models and leadership in their life."

But the position of SRO has been under intense scrutiny over the years, especially after the death of George Floyd when Americans were left debating the role of police in our communities.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) argued the presence of a badged SRO in schools has a lasting negative impact on students. The organization said students of color are disproportionally impacted.

"Black and brown children are over-policed for common youth behaviors such as disorderly conduct, like cursing or disrupting schools through obnoxious behavior, basically, just teenage behavior," said Roxana Gomez, policy manager for the ACLU.

According to research from the ACLU, there is no proof that SROs decrease violence in schools.

"it seems like we need to get our priorities back in order as far as who can actually provide that mental health support and safety," Gomez said.

For the first time ever, the Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction can track how many School Resource Officers are at work in the state and who has them. 

OSPI indicates 88 of the state's 321 school districts have a police officer or deputy serving as SRO. That's 27% of districts.

In Western Washington, the Lake Washington School District has by far the most SROs on duty with 14 uniformed officers in the schools. Everett Schools have eight.

Under new state law, school districts are required to enforce a 13-part training system for SROs. Districts also must report their progress to OSPI.

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