Police in Schools

Article by Andy.

As calls for system-wide reform have intensified after recent protests for racial justice, you may have heard about the growing national movement seeking to remove police from schools.

Police officers assigned to serve at schools, also known as School Resource Officers (SROs), were first used in Flint, Michigan in the 1950s, a period of civil rights reform. It was an experiment designed to develop a strong bond between local youth and the police. Deemed a success, SROs (who often doubled as mentors, tutors, and coaches) spread from community to community across the nation. At this time, SROs served less as law enforcers, but more as community liaisons who worked to assist students in their learning experience. Research that has been conducted regarding the SRO program in the mid 1900s shows that the community-based method that was employed back then was immensely successful at both improving community relations as well as reducing crime within schools. This system remained relatively unchanged until the tragic Columbine High School shooting in 1999. 

At the time, the Columbine shooting was the worst school shooting to date, and one of the first school shootings to ever occur. During this shooting, police and first responders were extremely disorganized and failed to clear the scene until five hours later. As a result of the respondents disorganization, a teacher passed away due to untreated injuries. It was clear neither law enforcement nor schools were prepared for this type of threat. This realization facilitated immense change across the nation. SROs were widely implemented in schools across the country, law enforcement was trained for response to school shootings, and schools adopted a zero-tolerance policy towards violence and threats. This policy was enforced by an SRO. In the blink of an eye, these school-based officers moved away from serving as a bridge between youth and law enforcement, and instead becoming strict disciplinarians and law enforcers. 

As the role of SROs have shifted more into a law-enforcement focused role, many studies have researched the effectiveness of the job itself. Do SROs actually protect students in schools? While research is not definitive, data shows that SROs are ineffective in preventing school shootings. Furthermore, according to the U.S. Department of Education, Black and Hispanic students are much more likely to be arrested than a white student. The Department of Education cites a study (Edweek) showing that Black and Hispanic students combined make up 58 percent of student arrests, while white students make up 33.7 percent. The United States Census shows that the U.S. population is 76.3 percent white and 32 percent Black and Hispanic. If SROs were arresting students of different races at the same rate, the distribution of student arrests should be around 76 percent white and 32 percent Black and Hispanic. Clearly, the data shows that most Black and Hispanic students are being unfairly arrested. This discrimination against Black and Hispanic students contributes to a system of oppression. By disproportionately arresting these students, the system unfairly denies them of the critical education and counseling required to become a working-class American. As a result, it creates a system called the“school to prison” pipeline, where students are funneled into an educational environment instead of an environment that prevents them from becoming productive. To back up the data, many Black and Hispanic students have given accounts showing that there is a greater sense of trepidation than safety when SROs are placed in schools. It has been proven that one of the most valuable assets that a student can have is a safe space, which allows them to be productive. It is also clear that Black and Hispanic students do not have this safe space to learn when School Resource Officers are prowling around the school, arresting them at a disproportionate rate. 

Based on evidence, School Resource Officers have no transparent benefits, and studies have shown that they contribute to an oppressive system. Nationwide protests advocating for the abolishment of police officers in schools have instead called for an increase in social services for students, including guidance counselors, social workers, psychologists, and nurses. This evidence-based approach towards supporting students has been proven to increase productivity and leads to better mental health. 















Cover image: https://www.urban.org/urban-wire/prevalence-police-officers-us-schools

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