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.

Act up in class, end up in court

Campus police officers — not principals — are enforcing discipline these days, reports the Washington Post.

Texas police issue thousands of misdemeanor tickets for offensive language, class disruption, schoolyard fights and misbehavior on the school bus. A parent must appear with the child in court. Students may be ordered to perform community service or take a behavior-management class. Fines can total $500.

Six in 10 Texas students were suspended or expelled at least once from seventh grade on, according to a new study. Federal officials say suspensions, expulsions and arrests create a “school-to-prison pipeline.”

“That is something that clearly has to stop,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in Washington alongside Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

It’s not just Texas. In many states, principals are turning to the police to enforce order.

Connecticut is rethinking discipline after students faced court charges for drinking soda, running in the hall and dressing improperly.

A Colorado task force is analyzing school ticketing and law enforcement referrals.

Texas schools adopted ticketing in the 1990′s, the Post reports. As more police officers have been assigned to schools, the number of tickets has soared.

In one highly publicized case a middle school student in Austin was ticketed for class disruption after she sprayed herself with perfume when classmates said she smelled.

In Houston one recent day, a 17-year-old was in court after he and his girlfriend poured milk on each other. “She was mad at me because I broke up with her,” he said.

Ticketing rates vary from 1 percent of students in Pasadena to 11 percent in Galveston, concluded a report by Texas Appleseed, a public interest law center. Children as young as five have been ticketed.

Not surprisingly, students who’ve been suspended, expelled or ticketed are more likely to drop out of high school and get into trouble as adults. But that raises a chicken-and-egg question: Was it the punishment or the crime?