Tuesday, April 16, 2013

 

More cops in schools lead to more student arrests

Schools that have armed guards have seen a surge in criminal charges against students for relatively minor offenses, according to a published report.

Putting police officers in more schools could mean more children, particularly minorities, finding themselves in court for misbehavior better handled in the principal's office, some critics of an armed-guard-in-every-school plan say.
In schools that already have armed guards, the officers often wind up playing the role of disciplinarian, citing or arresting students for relatively minor offenses such as truancy and cursing at teachers, civil rights groups and criminologists told The New York Times.
"There is no evidence that placing officers in the schools improves safety," Denise C. Gottfredson, a criminologist at the University of Maryland and an expert in school violence, told the Times. "And it increases the number of minor behavior problems that are referred to the police, pushing kids into the criminal system."
Other school violence experts disagree.
Ken Trump, president and CEO of National School Safety and Security Services, a Cleveland-based school safety consulting firm, said the main role of armed "school resource officers" is to prevent and deter crime, not arrest students for petty offenses.
"It's been my experience in the more than 25 years of working with schools across nation that school resource officers give kids the benefit of doubt and many more breaks than they do in terms of making arrests," Trump told MSN News.
"If police officers in schools issued citations and made arrests for everything they could legally do so, then you would see a huge, huge problem — but that's not the case."
The conflicting views come as school districts across the U.S. weigh whether to place more police officers in schools in the wake of the December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and six adults dead.
Thousands of school districts, some with the help of federal subsidies, already pay local police agencies to provide armed "school resource officers" to patrol high schools, middle schools and sometimes even elementary schools, according to the Times. Hundreds of additional districts have created police forces of their own.
A recent study funded by the National Rifle Association recommended putting armed, trained personnel in every school in America as a way to prevent another Newtown-like massacre.
Part of President Barack Obama's plan to make schools safer includes hiring as many as 1,000 more school resource officers, counselors, social workers and psychologists.
KIDS IN COURT
The Times article said it's unclear how effective school officers have been in deterring violent crime or possible armed intruders. What is evident is a surge in the number of students who wind up in court due to arrests or citations for essentially nonviolent, disruptive behavior including scuffles, truancy and cursing at teachers, the newspaper said.
In Texas, for example, police officers based in schools write more than 100,000 misdemeanor tickets each year, said Deborah Fowler, the deputy director of Texas Appleseed, a legal advocacy center in Austin.
Texas Appleseed and the Brazos County chapter of the NAACP recently filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, noting that black students in the Bryan Independent School District were getting criminal misdemeanor citations for misbehavior like using profanity and disrupting class at four times the rate of white students.
"In a very real sense, the Bryan school district is using law enforcement as its disciplinary arm," attorney Michael Harris, with the National Center for Youth Law, said in a statement. 
Some judicial officials also say school police officers are too quick in laying down the law.
"We are criminalizing our children for nonviolent offenses," Wallace B. Jefferson, chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas, told state legislators in a speech last month. "We must keep our children in school, and out of our courts, to give them the opportunity to follow a path of success, not a path toward prison."
The National Association of School Resource Officers, which supports placing properly trained police officers in schools, says the negative impacts of armed school guards have been exaggerated.
"Statistically speaking, the effectiveness of school resource officers is firmly established. In America, school crime is down: Incidences of school-associated deaths, violence, nonfatal victimizations and theft have all diminished since local police began partnering with school officials," the association says on its website.
A report (PDF) by NASRO said juvenile arrests in general fell 17 percent between 2000 and 2009, a period coinciding with the expansion of school resource officer programs.
BUILDING A RELATIONSHIP
Trump agreed that the bulk of the work being done by resource officers is preventative, not enforcement.
"This whole issue has been politically hijacked by civil rights activists and political interest groups driving to get police officers out of schools," he told MSN News.
"When SROs are introduced into schools, arrests (initially) do tend to go up simply because in many cases there were crimes occurring in schools that were unreported or not reported to police. But the longer the police officer is there, the crimes tend to decline as they build a good relationship with the kids."
Jimmy L. Dotson, chief of Houston's 186-member school district police force, told the Times that school officers are there to help kids, not arrest them.
"Our role is not to be disciplinarians," Dotson told the Times. "Our purpose is to push these kids into college, not into the criminal justice system."
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