The impact of police presence in schools

In 31 states and DC, Black students were referred to law enforcement at more than twice the rate of white students 2017-18, your Friday long read from The Center for Public Integrity

We go to the Center for Public Integrity for this week's long read by Corey Mitchell, Joe Yerardi, and Susan Ferriss read the whole article “When Schools Call Police On Kids.” We include key excerpts below to convince you it’s worth your time.

Cops on School Grounds 

A school safety officer removed a third-grader from class, took him to a staff bathroom, closed the door and berated him, telling the frightened child to “stop crying like a little girl.”

His crime? Refusing to leave art class after an argument with another student at their Northeast Philadelphia elementary school.

In the aftermath of the 2017 incident, the Philadelphia schools issued a statement acknowledging it was not handled correctly. But a charged encounter with an officer in school is far from rare. Nationally, nearly 230,000 students were referred to law enforcement during the 2017-18 school year, exemplifying why demands to restrict policing at schools are growing.

“You’ve got some police officers that just can’t help themselves,” said the child’s father, Isaac Gardner. “You’re taking a little elementary school child in the bathroom. You ain’t supposed to be doing that.”


The roots of school policing reach back to 1948, when Los Angeles formed a security unit that grew into a full-fledged school-based law enforcement agency. In the 1950s Flint, Michigan, posted officers borrowed from city ranks in schools to serve as “liaisons” in an anti-crime strategy. School shootings, including the 1999 Columbine massacre, led to an expansion of this policing. “Zero tolerance” for weapons morphed into crackdowns on kids’ behavior.

Between 2006 and 2018, the share of schools reporting the presence of one or more security officers on-site at least once a week grew from 42% to 61%. The higher the enrollment and proportion of children eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches, the more likely schools are to have security, according to a 2020 report from the U.S. departments of Education and Justice.

Federal funds remain available to schools that want to hire police. And because of the specter of school shootings, many parents, staff and children like to know an armed officer is on site. The University of California, Irvine, study found that principals in schools with more officers reported lower rates of criminal incidents. But with that decline came an increased likelihood that children accused of disruptive behavior would come into contact with someone in the criminal justice system rather than a principal or dean of students.

Bottom line

Resource officers are most effective when there are guidelines or memorandums of understanding that stipulate that schools should not dispatch them to handle routine conduct violations, said VanVelzen, a former national secretary of the National Association of School Resource Officers, a professional group.

“A genuine, properly trained, properly selected school resource officer does what’s right,” VanVelzen said. “The SRO is not going to be snatching up kids because they’re wearing a hat. That’s not a legal issue.

Read the whole article here.

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