One disturbing trend in recent years has been the tremendous increase in the number of police officers patrolling inside of schools, kindergarten through high school. In theory, school cops or “school resource officers” are intended to reduce crime, school drug use, bullying, and truancy and to deter mass shootings. But at what price?
For starters, there’s the literal price: the huge monetary cost. Major school systems, like New York City, Chicago, Miami-Dade County, and Houston, now employ more school cops than school social workers or counselors. In Chicago, the cost to taxpayers in 2013 for “school police services” was $13 million, during a time of school budget cuts and under-staffed counseling needs.
Then, there is the damage done by school cops disrupting the school environment. There are countless outrageous instances of school cops over-reacting to students behaving like students. Examples include a Virginia 4-year-old with ADHD who threw a temper tantrum in his pre-kindergarten classroom and was handcuffed and transported to the sheriff’s office in a squad car. Or the 14-year-old in Texas who was cuffed and brought to juvenile detention for proudly bringing a clock he had designed to school to show his teachers (school cops allegedly mistook it for a bomb). And it’s not just the egregious instances. The police presence in many schools is affecting the day to day experience of many students, particularly students of color and disabled students. The US Department of Education reports that during one school year (2011-12), 92,000 students were arrested at school. Those arrests disproportionately target black students (16% of the student population, but 31% of the arrests) and students with disabilities (12% of the student population, but 25% of the arrests). Many of these arrests are the result of reclassifying behavioral issues as criminal behavior. Others arise from school cops escalating situations involving minor misdeeds like cursing, uniform violations, or using cellphones at unauthorized times.
School cop violence in response to students acting out is truly alarming. Over the past five years, dozens of students have been seriously injured and in one case, shot to death, by school cops. In Birmingham, Alabama, over 1,000 students have been pepper-sprayed. In a Texas school, a student suffered a coma and severe brain injury after being tasered in school. And perhaps you recall incidents like police officer Ben Fields’ violent take down of the South Carolina high school student who refused to get out of her desk after being reprimanded for texting.
Or maybe you’ve seen the disturbing, recent viral video of a San Antonio school cop viciously body slamming a twelve-year-old middle school girl against a concrete floor in response to a verbal altercation.
Another recent, horrifying video shows a Baltimore cop swearing at, slapping, and kicking a teenage student.
School cops are often not even trained in how to deal with children and how to deescalate situations. Frequently, school cops are not even operating with specialized, school-specific rules about when to use force, tasers, pepperspray, or weapons. As a result, they bring violence to schools, criminalize what should be school related offenses, and do not meaningfully contribute to safety. This is far too high a price to pay.