'Their response was terrific:' Shootings in Waukesha, Oshkosh highlighted role of SROs

Photo shows officers immediately render aid to Waukesha South student shot

OSHKOSH -- Wisconsin high school resource officers have found themselves on the front lines in two student shootings in the past two days, underscoring how police in schools can face life-or-death situations and likely adding to the debate over the best ways to respond to school threats.

An Oshkosh Police Department resource officer shot a 16-year-old student Tuesday after the boy stabbed him in the officer’s office at Oshkosh West High School. A day earlier, a resource officer at Waukesha South High School helped clear students out of a classroom after a 17-year-old student pointed a gun — it turned out to be a pellet gun — at another student’s head. Another police officer entered the room and shot the student. No one in either incident suffered life-threatening injuries.

With both incidents involving resource officers, there's increased attention on the critical role they play in keeping students and staff safe.

All school resource officers are trained police officers. They also receive special training on how to assess and respond to school threats -- equipping them with the necessary skills to stop violence on campus and take proactive measures to prevent threats from escalating in the first place.

John Stangler

" I think their response was terrific to those type of events," said John Stangler, president of the Wisconsin School Safety Coordinators Association.

Stangler said the alarmingly similar incidents underscore the importance of stationing school resource officers at every school across the state.

"They've received a lot more training than the average school district employee has received," said Stangler.

Stangler works with school districts to improve their safety and security. He said school resource officers' responsibilities range from participating in emergency response planning to educating youth about various harmful activities.

"They're a key liaison between the school district and their police department," said Stangler. "This may be about vaping. It might be on drugs. It might be about internet activity."

Both tasks serve one primary goal -- fostering relationships with staff, students, and parents so they feel comfortable coming forward in the event of a real emergency.

"That information will be critical in them resolving the situation effectively and promptly," said Stangler.

Oshkosh West High School

That was the case on Monday, Dec. 2 in Waukesha, and Tuesday, Dec. 3 in Oshkosh.

"The SRO at Waukesha South did a great job of immediately responding to the information and was able to remove many students from harm's way," said Waukesha Police Chief Russell Jack.

"Today's tragic event shows that trained school resource officers can help save lives," said Oshkosh Superintendent Vickie Cartwright.

Stangler said the school resource officers in these cases were alerted to a dangerous situation before anyone was harmed and took action.

Guns recovered after Waukesha South HS incident

"We live in a world where it can realistically happen anywhere," said Stangler.

In both the Waukesha and Oshkosh incidents, the officers were carrying firearms at school, which Stangler said is typical since they're sworn law enforcement officers.