Live 5 Investigates: Schools districts look to resource officers as role models, not disciplinarians

BERKELEY COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - It has been weeks since the now viral video showed a former Richland County deputy drag a female student from her desk, then throw her to the ground as he arrested her.

Deputy Ben Fields, a school resource officer at Spring Valley High School, was fired days later, but not before sparking national outrage, including within his department.

"It continues to upset me when I see that video," said Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said in an October 29th news conference.

"It's the fact that he picked that student up, and he threw the student across the room.  That is not a proper technique and it should not be used in law enforcement. "

According to state training as regulated by the Criminal Justice Academy, SROs operate using the triad concept, and are designed to serve as a law enforcement officer, law related educator, and law related counselor.

A successful school resource officer is defined as a positive role model, resource to the community and school, and a positive liaison between the agency and community.

Among SRO duties, acting as a school disciplinarian is not one of them.

In South Carolina, training is based on the Florida model, inspired by the Orlando Police Department, which began setting guidelines and procedures for SROs in the 1970s.

The earliest recorded SRO program dates back to the 1950s in Flint, Michigan.

"I thought this would be a good way to bring students into law enforcement," said Deputy Goodwin, an SRO at Macedonia Middle School in Berkeley County.

"There is a lot of stuff said about us that's not true."

In his first year at Macedonia, Goodwin started a program called "Fox Patrol," a student-run safety team, which allows students to interact closely with a law enforcement officer, performing duties like hall monitoring.

Students are chosen based on academics, character, and discipline, and Goodwin says interest has been high.

"I had 123 apply and only 16 are picked."

The Navy veteran also teaches classes in hunter's education, boater safety, and archery at the Berkeley County middle school.  Occasionally, he can also be found playing a tune on the saxophone with the middle school band.

"I've been here for almost 20 years almost, and I can count on two hands any incidents," said the school band instructor Becky Kirby.

"He's available and he's always visible," she said.

According to the South Carolina Association of School Resource Officers, SROs are now in schools across all 50 states, and internationally in England, Canada, and Australia.

In the Lowcountry, the Berkeley County School District employs 22 School Resource Officers, with 19 in the Charleston County School District.

Dorchester District Two also employs school resource officers, the majority of whom are sworn law enforcement officers.

Mike Turner, the district head of safety and security, said SROs also undergo an additional 80 hours of training.

Additionally, each school district enters into an agreement with the law enforcement agency providing officers, often known as the Memorandum of Understanding.  The contract outlines the purpose, policy and procedure for its SROs, which includes hours worked, and program goals.  The rights and duties of the school district are also outlined, which includes providing an office space.

"I just make sure that the kids understand, I'm here to help, and I'm here to counsel," said Deputy Harvey Mason of Cross High School.

"I can be a big brother, mentor, but at the end of the day, I'm a police officer."

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