Zero tolerance laws

Alexa Gonzalez, 12, was arrested by  New York City Police for drawing on her desk in her middle school because of a zero tolerance law.  Zero tolerance policies became more popular after the Columbine High School massacre.  There was no profanity, no hate. Just the words, “I love my friends Abby and Faith. Lex was here 2/1/10 :)” scrawled on the classroom desk with a green marker.

She was handcuffed by the police and escorted out of the school past students and teachers.  This is not the only time police were called into a school to enforce school zero tolerance laws.

The Strategy Center, a California-based civil rights group that tracks zero tolerance policies, found that at least 12,000 tickets were issued to tardy or truant students by Los Angeles Police Department and school security officers in 2008. The tickets tarnished students’ records and brought them into the juvenile court system, with fines of up to $250 for repeat offenders.

And another California school — Highland High School in Palmdale — found that issuing tardiness tickets drastically cut the number of pupils being late for class and helped tone down disruptive behavior. The fifth ticket issued landed a student in juvenile traffic court.

In 1998, New York City took its zero tolerance policies to the next level, placing school security officers under the New York City Police Department. Today, there are nearly 5,000 employees in the NYPD School Safety Division. Most are not police officers, but that number exceeds the total police force in Washington, D.C.

In contrast, there are only about 3,000 counselors in New York City’s public school system. Critics of zero tolerance policies say more attention should be paid to social work, counseling and therapy.

Kenneth Trump, a security expert who founded the National School Safety and Security Services consulting firm, said focusing on security is essential to the safety of other students. He said zero tolerance policies can work if “common sense is applied.”

“There is zero intelligence when you start applying zero tolerance across the board,” he said. “Stupid and ridiculous things start happening.”

Should these people be punished for doing this?  ABSOLUTELY! Should they be arrested instead of being taken to the principal’s office and have their parents called?  And then be given “community service” like cleaning graffiti in and around the school?  Sure!  Zero tolerance laws make little sense when common sense is not taken into account.  Each offense and the person who has committed them needs to be taken into account.  How would you like it if the police took away your driver’s license every time you went faster than the speed limit?  Or how would you feel if your car was taken whenever you passed a red light?  There needs to be some rational thought when schools call in police officers.  And we need to admit that certain offenses need to be penalized with more rational thought.