Police in Schools

Major Cities Wrestle With Proposals to End School Policing

San Francisco and Oakland have moved toward getting police out of its schools, while Chicago and L.A. rejected similar proposals this week.

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School boards across the U.S. are considering proposals to get rid of school resource officers (SROs), police officers assigned to patrol public schools.

San Francisco became the largest school district so far to move toward defunding its SRO program yesterday, as the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution to end its memorandum of understanding with the San Francisco Police Department. Across the bay, the Oakland school board also voted unanimously yesterday to eliminate the district's police department and shift its $2.5 million budget to student support services. Minneapolis, Portland, Denver, Seattle, and Charlottesville have also ended or suspended relationships with local police departments in recent weeks.

But similar proposals in other major cities have stalled under concerns that quickly disbanding SRO programs will leave schools defenseless against security threats. The Chicago Board of Education rejected a proposal yesterday to end its $33 million contract with the Chicago Police Department (CPD). 

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot opposed the proposal. "We all want change," Lightfoot said prior to the vote. "But we want to do the right things. We don't want to just do cosmetic changes or quick changes that end up creating more problems and make our communities and schools less safe."

And in an 11-hour marathon session Tuesday, the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, which oversees the second largest school district in the country, rejected three different proposals regarding school police, including one that would have gradually slashed its SRO budget by 90 percent.

Civil liberties groups and activists have been pressing to reduce the presence of police in schools for years, but with little success prior to the last month's mass protests against abusive policing. They argue that the dramatic increase over the past few decades in SROs and in zero-tolerance policies, spurred by fears of mass shootings and drug crime, fuels the "school-to-prison pipeline" and leads to disproportionate enforcement against minority students for minor disturbances.

Reason recently reported on the expanded use of school resource officers in Florida following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018—and a troubling number of arrests and uses of force against children with autism.

The Oakland school board resolution noted that black students make up 26 percent of the district's student population, yet account for 73 percent of student arrests. Likewise, the Chicago school board motion cited a study finding that black students made up 36 percent of all Chicago students but 66 percent of police notifications from 2011 through 2018, and that black girls experienced school-based policing at seven times the rate of white girls. In Seattle's public schools, black students make up 14 percent of enrollment but half of referrals to police.

The National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) argues that carefully selected, well-trained officers actually act as a filter and decrease arrests by building strong relationships within the school with staff and students.

"One thing that is so critical is that SROs have to be very carefully selected," says NASRO executive director Mo Canady told Reason earlier this month. "This is the most high-profile position in law enforcement, and it has to be filled with people who have a sincere desire to work with students. Then the officer has to be specifically trained how to work with students and how to work in that school environment."

But like policing at large, the proliferation of cell phone videos, policy body cameras, and social media has led to numerous viral incidents involving school resource officers. An Orlando SRO made national headlines last September when he arrested a six-year-old girl. 

In February, a school resource officer at a high school in Camden, Arkansas, was relieved of duty after video showed him putting a student in a chokehold and lifting the student off the ground. Last December, a North Carolina SRO was fired after he brutally body-slammed a middle-schooler. In November, a Broward County sheriff's deputy in Florida was arrested and charged with child abuse after a video showed him body-slamming a 15-year-old girl at a special needs school.

Activists who supported the Chicago Board of Education proposal to end the school district's contract with CPD cited a 2019 incident in which video showed CPD officers kicking, punching and tasing a 16-year-old girl.

The Justice Department's 2017 report on unconstitutional policing in Chicago found that CPD officers used non-lethal force with abandon, including tasing children for non-criminal conduct or minor violations:

In one incident, officers hit a 16-year-old girl with a baton and then Tasered her after she was asked to leave the school for having a cell phone in violation of school rules. Officers were called in to arrest her for trespassing. Officers claimed the force was justified because she flailed her arms when they tried to arrest her, with no adequate explanation for how such flailing met the criteria for use of a Taser. This was not an isolated incident. We also reviewed incidents in which officers unnecessarily drive-stunned students to break up fights, including one use of a Taser in drive-stun mode against a 14-year-old girl. There was no indication in these files that these students' conduct warranted use of the Taser instead of a less serious application of force.

Despite these long-simmering complaints, the speed at which school officials have moved to end SRO programs in the past few weeks has stunned both local police departments and NASRO.

"Before I was executive director for NASRO, I was a professional police officer for 25 years in a great community," Canady said. "Loved what I got to do, loved serving the community, and for half of that time, my son was a supervisor of our school resource officers program. Just the opportunity to do what we did and connect with kids and communities, and the opportunity to make a difference in their lives—I have the feeling today that the work I did, and we did together, wasn't enough. Sad is the best way I know to describe it."

Critics feel differently. "We see that more SROs in schools correlates directly with the enrollment of black and brown students, not violence," Luz Maria Henriquez of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri told the St. Louis station KMOV. The result, she says, is "distrust and anxiety"—and sometimes worse.

NEXT: Activists Force New Look at the Death of Elijah McClain

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  1. Good. Get them out of schools. When a shooter comes around they just hide, anyway.

    1. For once, I agree with you.

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  2. If the issue is actually school security, why are they called “school resource officers”?
    Security is provided by armed GUARDS.
    A “resource officer” should be someone (unarmed) who helps the kids find the right library book, or teaches them how to run the copy machine.

    And, oh by the way, if your school district NEEDS armed guards, it is time to fire the school board, the entire administrative staff, and find someone who knows how to lead children.

    1. hahaha you actually think you can fire a teacher / administrator

    2. They are called resource officers because words like “armed” and “guards” are scary

  3. So, I guess this means the anti-bullying mania is over?

    P.S. Reason #583 to home school.

    1. Yep. I’m there this year. Homeschool. No mask, no muzzle, no indoctrination, no dogma right or left, no more

  4. Agree with getting cops out of schools. However, it has to come with returning authority and control over students back to the teachers. If they have to use physical force to protect themselves or another student, so be it.

    1. Simpler yet: return school choice to parents. If the parents don’t like teachers and the school staff, they can change. Let schools kick out students they don’t like.

  5. But similar proposals in other major cities have stalled under concerns that quickly disbanding SRO programs will leave schools defenseless against security threats.

    Who will body slam 14-year-olds?

    1. Who will defend the teachers when the 14 year olds body slam them? I take it you haven’t seen an inner city school recently.

      1. I believe Samuel Colt has a solution for that.

  6. Major Cities Wrestle With Proposals to End School Policing

    That wrestling had jolly well better not involve choke holds!

  7. As usual, the real problem is that parents and students have so little choice because public schools are either the only possibility or mandatory. If parents and students had to choose schools, and had as many choices as they do with grocery stores, clothes, and cars, nasty cops enforcing nasty policies in nasty schools wouldn’t survive.

  8. Pull the cops and find out if teachers will still show up in inner city schools. These cops didn’t find their way into the schools because things were slow on the meter reading beat.

  9. ending state schooling obviates need for armed guards

    1. Yes it does. And in my neck of the woods they will keep them and the staff sitting ducks for posterity. Stupid little people without solutions will continue stupid policy.

  10. I pulled my son out of his Seattle PRIVATE school since they support this. Already filed for a homeschool exemption. Selling my house after the CHAZ/CHOP debacle. I have a feeling any parent with means will do the same.

    1. Wait, you don’t support removing police from schools?

      Anyway, I left Seattle almost 4 years ago. If you aren’t working in the city and trying to avoid a commute, or are young, single, and looking for steady action, there is no reason to live in Seattle. You can get the full city experience of good restaurants, comedy clubs, live music, etc. in Tacoma, and for only 2/3 the cost of Seattle living. Real estate is appreciating faster outside of Seattle now, anyway. Olympia has some good house deals and a bit of a downtown, complete with aggressive pan handling. Washington is awesome, but Seattle needs to clean the fuck up.

    2. I’m hoping homeschooling really takes off after the
      Wuhan Flu subsides.

  11. “Initiated in January 1969 at St. Augustine’s Church in Oakland, California, [ The Black Panthers’ Free Breakfast Program] became so popular that by the end of the year, the Panthers set up kitchens in cities across the US, feeding over 10,000 children every day before they went to school.[1]”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_Breakfast_for_Children

    My understanding is that the Black Panthers used to bus and escort these kids to school after the free breakfast in order to make sure that none of them failed to go to school because they were afraid of bullies in rougher neighborhoods hassling them along the way, etc.

    Wealthier whites may have sent the police into the schools to save poor minorities from the scourge of marijuana only to see the police become more like an occupation army, but I can’t help but wonder if this is also about wealthier white liberals throwing poor minority kids to the lions because they think this is the right thing to do, too. Question being, are we sure this is what people in poorer communities want–the police taken out of the schools?

  12. End Commie Education – Actually fix the problem instead of trying to figure out what exact size of pants is going to fit everyone.

    1. Public education has failed….

  13. Having cops at schools leads to criminalizing normal kid behavior like fistfights and cutting class. Plus the sros are the cops who are too dumb, fat, and/or lazy to be trusted with real police work.

  14. I think we all agree with this move. Just get them out of there, and let a separate school security handle fights and violence. Let the admin and parents decide when criminal charges are appropriate.

    If Twitter can ban users for “learn to code”, why can’t our schools just kick out students who cross the line? If they don’t listen to students and engage in non stop bullying, they should be removed permanently. And with no police protection they would have to do that even more.

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