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Police in Schools: Yes or No

The debate over school resource officers

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WHAT IT IS

  • Due to the increase in fatal school shootings, schools across the country have hired local police officers as a method to keep students safe. 
  • These officers are often called school resource officers (SROs). 
  • SROs are "career law enforcement officers with arrest authority, who have specialized training and are assigned to work in collaboration with school organizations." [National Center for Education Statistics]
  • Since the early 1990s, thousands of districts have hired SROs or established their own force to protect students and maintain safety. [The New York Times]
  • 2018: The National Association for School Resource Officers (NASRO) estimates there are between 14,000 and 20,000 officers in about 30% of the country's schools. [NPR]
  • 2018 was the deadliest year for school shootings, with 110 school shootings counted. [BBC News]
  • From Columbine in 1999 to Marjory-Stoneman Douglas in 2018, the public began calling for more SROs.
  • 2020: As apart of a national movement against unjust police brutality toward Black Americans, student activists are calling for schools to end the use of SROs. [TIME]

WHY IT MATTERS

 

CIVICSThe U.S. Department of Education (DOE) bestows the majority of power to the states. Each state has different policies in place for school resource officers (SROs). See 2018 rubric or guidelines for SROs from the DOE and DOJ here.

 

The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) oversees police departments, including the use of SROs. The DOJ defines SROs as “sworn law enforcement officers responsible for safety and crime prevention in schools.” 
 

SOCIAL: Calls to rethink SROs ignited after an SRO at Marjory Stoneman Douglas never entering the school building, and instances of SROs in South Carolina and North Carolina physically assaulting a student. With 2018 being the most deadly school year and more SRO-related issues coming to light, many are asking if SROs are the right response.

YES! NEED THE POLICE

Need them

City leaders in NYC and Chicago say school police play a critical role in maintaining order and student safety.

  • Unfortunately, we need security in our schools,” -Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot [Chalkbeat]

Others argue that armed SROs could deter or stop a school shooting from occurring. [The Baltimore Sun] Read about two schools in Baltimore that saw a reduction in threats once an SRO was present. 

 

 

Feel safer

Some students and staff expressed feeling safer at school knowing there was an officer in the building or nearby. [NPR]

 

 

By the numbers

According to a 2016 report on School and Climate Saftey from the Department of Education, 290,600 students were referred to law enforcement agencies or arrested. Some argue these preventative procedures with law enforcement could have prevented a fatal occurrence.  

 

 

They do more

The U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) and the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) advocate for SROs to be (1) an educator, (2) a counselor, (3) law enforcement/problem solver.  

 

The NASRO believes the SRO to be a bridge between the youth and law enforcement. [National Association of School Resource Officers]

NO! NEED POLICE-FREE SCHOOLS

No proof

Several studies have tried to answer the question, are SROs effective?

 

While they've found an increase in suspensions and arrests, they ended with no clear verdict on whether SROs reduce in-school crime or major conflict. [Chalkbeat]

  • There is no evidence that placing officers in the schools improves safety,”-Denise C. Gottfredson, a criminologist at the University of Maryland who is an expert in school violence [The New York Times]

Counselors, Not Cops

According to an analysis of federal data, 1.7 million students attend schools with police officers but no counselors. Only 3 states meet the recommended guidelines for school counselor presence. [American Civil Liberties Union

 

Some argue that schools need more funding for mental health services, like school counselors, that can help prevent attacks. 

  • Programs that teach students social/ emotional skills found improved student behavior, academic achievement, and school safety. [U.S. News and World Report]

Systemic racism

Racial justice advocate argue SROs over-discipline and criminalize students of color,. [TIME]

 

According to a report on School and Climate Saftey from the Department of Education, Black students were disproportionately suspended, expelled, and arrested in school, compared to their white peers.

WHERE WE ARE NOW

  • June 2020: The public school board in Minneapolis voted unanimously to end its contract with the city’s police department. [Minneapolis Star Tribune]
  • June 2020: Portland Public Schools Superintendent announced the end of school resource officers (SROs) and will increase spending on counselors and social workers. [The Oregonian]
  • June 2020: Denver Public Schools signed a new contract with the Denver Police Department to phase out all SROs from middle and high schools by 2021. [Chalkbeat]
  • June 2020: NYC Department of Education signed a new contract with city law enforcement that limits their role and ends the use of zero-tolerance policies that "civil rights advocate have long said contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline." [U.S. News and World Report]
  • July 2020: 15 Chicago schools voted to keep SROs. 50 have yet to decide. [Chicago Sun Times]

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT

  • How can you ensure your school has the appropriate safety procedures in place? Is there a one-size-fits-all approach? 
  • What is the school-to-prison pipeline?
  • 2020 was the safest school year yet, with the last school shooting occurring in March. [EdWeek] Why? Because schools physically closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic
  • The British government is studying how America is handling youth violence. Read more from The Guardian
  • With schools reopening and many feeling mentally exhausted from quarantine and social injustice, will there be an increase in school fatalities? What can schools do to help their students in distress?
  • If you or someone you know is contemplating hurting themself or others, call these international numbers for help.
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