SRO vs. School Safety Officer: What is the Difference?


BFA’s School Safety Officer William Westen. Photo credit: Asher Ballantine

Rachel Ledoux, Writer

With the recent shift away from having a School Resource Officer (SRO) at Bellows Free Academy and the arrival of a new School Safety Officer (SSO), many BFA community members may be left wondering, “What’s the difference?” The Mercury recently got an opportunity to find out. 

According to Principal Brett Blanchard, the role of the Safety Officer is to help staff monitor behavior between classes, before school, etc., in order to ensure students are safe and making good decisions.

“We have around 900 students,” Blanchard said. “So it can really put a strain on faculty if there isn’t a designated person to monitor students.”

William Westen, BFA’s new School Safety Officer, added that it’s a relatively demanding position and would be hard for staff members to deal with themselves.

“There are a lot of responsibilities in my position. Checking the bathrooms to see if kids are vaping, making sure visitors are where they’re supposed to be, that kind of thing,” Westen said.

According to Westen, his approach revolves around connecting with students and helping them.

“My position isn’t about discipline, but rather correcting misguided choices,” Westen said.

When asked about the difference in responsibilities between the SRO and SSO, Blanchard had this to say:  “The Safety Officer is [a way] of being more active, rather than reactive, in preventing harm.”

Blanchard noted that the School Resource Officer was usually called in to respond to dangerous behavior or issues, whereas the Safety Officer takes a preventive approach to de-escalate situations in order to prevent the harm from happening in the first place.

According to Blanchard, despite taking a different approach with the School Safety Officer, that didn’t mean that the SRO didn’t have a good impact on the BFA community.

“I think the SRO had [a positive impact] on the school. At least seeing the dog was a way to brighten students’ days,” Blanchard said.

Westen noted, however, that his presence was likely a bit less intimidating for students, as he isn’t a police officer and doesn’t carry a tactical belt. 

“I don’t wear a uniform or have a tactical belt,” Westen said. “So I think I’m more approachable [than the SRO] as a figure around school.”

According to Blanchard, some students “viewed [the SRO] as a person there to arrest people,” which was one of the reasons the School Safety Officer was brought in.

“I think [Westen] is doing a good job of trying to build positive relationships with students without being overly judgemental or anything like that,” Blanchard said.

Westen corroborated this and explained that he isn’t here to judge students or get them in trouble, just to support them and keep community members safe.

“My goal is to make sure BFA students and staff are safe from any type of threat,” Westen said. “Socially, emotionally, academically and physically safe.”