RENO — Slain Alabama school bus driver Charles Poland did all he possibly could in dealing with the armed man who forced his way onto Poland’s bus earlier this year to abduct a student before he was gunned down, said the executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers Tuesday during the keynote address at the 20th annual STN EXPO.
“(Poland) showed incredible bravery in trying to talk the guy down,” said Mo Canady, a former police officer and SRO. “He would not let him take the child off the bus. We all hope we’re not faced with a similar life or death situation.”
Poland was killed January 29. He was 66.
Canady was responding to a question on what might have been done to de-escalate the situation faced by Poland. Delivering the keynote address, “To Protect and Educate,” to a full house, he voiced his association’s opposition to armed private security guards and school personnel in school buildings and on school buses.
“That is a hot issue,” Canady said in response to another question. “We are concerned with arming civilians in a school environment. I’m not saying civilians cannot handle a firearm but it is a little different when you’re dealing with a true tactical situation. There’s a certain level of experience law enforcement officers have that civilians do not. You have a right to defend yourselves but your first choice should be a properly trained police officer.”
Earlier, Canady told the gathering that SROs are aware that bullying and other acts of violence occur on school buses, and talked about their frustrations. “SROs completely understand the school bus is an extension of the school campus,” he said. “A difficulty and frustration for us is that we can’t be on every school bus. It’s important that we’re engaged with school bus drivers.”
Canady outlined six key areas where SROs work with school transportation, including training bus drivers; maintaining an officer presence on the bus to help mitigate incidents at bus stops; investigations into criminal acts; two-way communication with bus drivers; providing escort service for buses; and relationship building.
Canady used a PowerPoint presentation and a video to familiarize the audience with how SROs are selected and their roles within the education community. He said the most important role is building relationships. “Kids begin to look beyond the badge and the gun and share information with you,” he said. “This gives the SRO the opportunity to stop a tragedy before it gets any traction. We’re not there to arrest kids for every little thing they do, but we are there to make arrests if they need to be made.”
He surprised everyone by saying that all SROs should be sworn law enforcement officers, but not all law enforcement officers are cut out to be SROs. “About 10 percent of law enforcement officers can do this job,” he said. “If you put the wrong officer in this job, it will come back to bite the police department and the school district.”
Canady said his presentation bears the name of a national report put together by the NASRO in response to allegations that the SRO presence in schools fueled the juvenile justice system by increasing arrests. The report actually shows that since SROs gained popularity, the number of juvenile arrests plummeted by 50 percent from 1994 to 2009. He said schools have become safer despite the Columbine and Sandy Hook shootings.
For more information on the report, visit www.nasro.org.