More cops in schools, more kids in court

When police patrol school campuses, misbehavior is criminalized,reports the New York Times. Students who might have been sent to the principal’s office for “scuffles, truancy and cursing at teachers” end up in court.

Since the early 1990s, thousands of districts, often with federal subsidies, have paid local police agencies to provide armed “school resource officers” for high schools, middle schools and sometimes even elementary schools. Hundreds of additional districts, including those in Houston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, have created police forces of their own, employing thousands of sworn officers.

. . . “There is no evidence that placing officers in the schools improves safety,” said Denise C. Gottfredson, a criminologist at the University of Maryland who is an expert in school violence. “And it increases the number of minor behavior problems that are referred to the police, pushing kids into the criminal system.”

In Texas, school-based police officers write more than 100,000 misdemeanor tickets each year, said Deborah Fowler, the deputy director of Texas Appleseed, a legal advocacy center in Austin. Students face fines, community service and, in some cases, a criminal record. Her group and the NAACP have filed a federal civil rights complaint charging one Texas district issues four times more citations to blacks than whites.

In the wake of Newtown, many districts are hiring police officers to guard schools. But once they’re on campus, cops usually end up enforcing discipline.

We are criminalizing our children for nonviolent offenses,” Wallace B. Jefferson, the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas, said in a speech to the Legislature in March.

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  1. Placing the officer in the high school as an SRO may not be needed, but a police response to criminal activity is needed. Our district invited the police in after the last knife fight involving multiple students. Shortly thereafter, in school security and alternative learning placements became a fixture. In three years, the campus changed — it’s now a place of learning, not a convenient place to make trouble or deal illegal substances. It was a busy first year, as those who came in to a classroom in order to disrupt had those difficult conversations about their future with the staff after being escorted out. Most are not in jail; they’re in an alternative school setting. It costs about as much as special education for the year…low $20k/child. Cheaper than legal fees and having the other children in the class repeat the course content they missed while the disruptors were in business.

  2. Richard Aubrey says:

    I suppose there’s a class of behavior which ought to be criminalized but isn’t due to absence of cops. Counting that category as criminalizing normal disruptive behavior is not helpful.

  3. A friend, a new teacher, had to go to the ER this year after a large middle schooler slammed her against the wall. She’s just a little thing – 5’1″ or so. She is threatened all the time, and this is not a large inner city. The kid wasn’t charged with assault but he should have been, and a teacher on campus might make new teachers last a little longer in their professions. My friend has just about had it because she gets very little support, even though she is a dedicated teacher who sponsors several after-school activities.

    • I meant, a policeman on campus, not a teacher on campus, would alleviate some of the threats and violence against teachers and help them stay in their profession longer.

  4. Moving disruptive students to alternative settings is a better solution than criminalizing them. That said, I have to say that the resource officer at our high school is a real benefit and does not rely on arrests or citations to do his work.

  5. Minor behavior problems – such as shoving people into lockers, etc aren’t criminalized here, but it does go to court as the victims’ families recoup their costs. Medical care plus tutoring (to catch child up for what he missed while out recovering) isn’t cheap these days, and middle school perp parents tend to raise their expectations when they know there are financial consequences to junior’s inability to control himself.

  6. I understand why cops in schools are a big item right now – Sandy Hook. What I’m trying to figure out is why the idea’s being treated as if it’s new?

    It isn’t and, on the basis of the degree of criminal violence that continues to occur is some schools in some areas, as a solution it leaves something to be desired.

    The only thing I can figure is that no response is unacceptable yet the response can’t be outside the realm of what’s acceptable to public education officialdom. So we get a solution that almost certainly wouldn’t have prevented the Sandy Hook tragedy nor prevent the next and to the extent to which the policy can be made effective it’s entirely dependent upon the administration and school boards determination to make it effective.

    My observation is that that’s a pretty thin reed.

  7. Igm: The problem is, now it may be the police officer slamming kids into lockers.

    • markm: that depends on the hiring practices, training, and supervision , no? I’ll hazard the guess that there would be so many cameras on that type of scene that rouge staff procedures would be squelched quickly.