After the Sandy Hook School tragedy and too many reports of school shootings to count, school districts across the U.S. are clamoring for more police in their schools. The National Rifle Association has wasted no time in calling for police officers in every single school. But while it is not at all clear if the full-time presence of police officers deters crime or the threat of armed intruders, putting more police officers in school has resulted in more student arrests and misdemeanor charges “for essentially nonviolent behavior including scuffles, truancy and cursing at teachers,” the New York Times reports
Police (and metal detectors) in the corridors of U.S. school are nothing new. As one my college students noted, at her New York City high school, students had to go through as much security every day to get to their classes as passengers do to get on airplanes, removing belts, shoes and anything with metal. Now, it seems that students can expect to see police officers as routinely as teachers.
“No Evidence” That Police in Schools Improves Safety
The Obama administration has called for an increase in police officers in the nations’s schools. Indeed, since the 1990s, thousands of federal dollars have been allocated for “police resource officers” in elementary, middle and high schools since the 1990s. School districts including those of Houston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia have their own police forces.
A full-time police presence in school hallways certainly changes a school’s atmosphere, but as University of Maryland criminologist Denise C. Gottfredson says in the New York Times: “There is no evidence that placing officers in the schools improves safety. And it increases the number of minor behavior problems that are referred to the police, pushing kids into the criminal system.”
Rather than providing security, police officers end up dealing with disciplinary issues that schools themselves should address — instead of enhancing students’ safety, school districts hand over discipline to law enforcement. Having students cited for misbehavior teaches them nothing and certainly not positive, pro-active strategies for dealing with anger, impulsivity and other challenging behaviors.
Minority Students More Frequently Arrested
What’s more, black and Latino/a students, as well as students with disabilities, are arrested or given criminal citations in disproportionate numbers, as civil rights groups including the NAACP report. Youth advocates have begun to fight back and not only because of the injustice of students having to face criminal courts for infractions such as cursing at teachers or truancy. Not only do they end up missing school for court appearances; students also face fines, community service and criminal charges on their record that can mean rejection from the military and jobs.
The case of 12-year-old De’Angelo Rollins is too typical. Soon after starting to attend Bryan Middle School in Texas (where some 100,000 misdemeanor tickets are written up for students in one year), he and another boy got into a scuffle and were both issued citations. De’Angelo had to go through “repeated court appearances;” he pleaded no contest and was fined $69 and sentenced to 20 hours of community service and four months probation.
Of course students must be safe in school, but simply calling in police officers is a sign that school districts are foregoing educating students and addressing their challenges. As no one less than Wallace B. Jefferson, the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas, said in a speech to the Legislature in March, “We are criminalizing our children for nonviolent offenses.”
Forget about a school-to-prison pipeline. What’s really going on in public schools in the U.S. is that school is prison, or a place where you’re under constant surveillance by the police.
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