How Effective is it to Place Police in Schools?

In light of the school violence taking place, some (have that read The National Rifle Association) have suggested the posting of police officers in schools.  I have worked in schools where there is a police presence and I am not in favor of these proposals. School incidents which traditionally have been handled by professional educators in the principal’s office have a way of escalating to criminal charges in the courts and have resulted in a surge in criminal charges against children.

Some school districts, including those in Houston, Los Angeles, New York and Philadelphia, have created police forces of their own, employing thousands of armed officers.  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. Even the White House has proposed an increase in police officers based in schools.

The most striking impact of school police officers in schools has resulted so far in a surge in arrests or misdemeanor charges for essentially nonviolent behavior — including scuffles, truancy and cursing at teachers — that sends children into the criminal courts.

“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.”

Nationwide, hundreds of thousands of students are arrested or given criminal citations at schools each year. A large share are sent to court for relatively minor offenses, with black and Hispanic students and those with disabilities disproportionately affected.

Children charged with crimes have a “permanent record” that may impact their future employment, getting into college or being rejected by the military.

In New York, a lawsuit against the Police Department’s School Safety Division describes Many judges say school police officers are too quick to make arrests or write tickets. In some well-publicized incidents officers handcuffed and arrested children for noncriminal behavior. “We are criminalizing our children for nonviolent offenses,” Wallace B. Jefferson, the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas.

Despite the media headlines, schools are safer than ever for children.  Data indicate that school violence has decreased in the past 10 years.