Why More Cops in Schools Is a Bad Idea
With the new year, the NRA has been flexing its political muscle, lobbying states not just to hire more school police—under the group’s National School Shield project—but also to pass laws allowing teachers or other staff to bring licensed guns to school to defend their students and themselves.
Beyond the headlines, though, the push for more cops or other armed security personnel in schools is running headlong into another movement that’s been quietly growing in states as diverse as Mississippi, New York, Utah, Texas, and California. It’s a push to get police out of schools, or at least to end their involvement in routine discipline matters that principals and parents used to address without involvement from law enforcement officers.
Civil-rights groups and juvenile court judges—and even some officials within the Obama administration—argue that because the ranks of police began growing in schools in the late 1990s, the criminal justice system’s involvement in student discipline has gotten entirely out of hand in some communities. That has put students, especially ethnic minorities, on a path to failure, they say—the so-called school-to-prison pipeline.
In Los Angeles, for example, scores of students, most Latino or black and many just 11 or 12 years old, have been ticketed by school officers for minor infractions often categorized as disturbing the peace. In Austin, Texas, a 12-year-old was forced to court for spraying on perfume in class. In DeSoto County, Mississippi, officers and a school district were sued after a bus surveillance video—seen in part by a reporter—revealed officers unjustifiably arresting black students, the suit alleged, and threatening others with a “a bullet between the eyes.”
Optimists—Education Secretary Arne Duncan among them—say cops in schools are not an either/or proposition: careful training, they say, will ensure that school police deployed in the wake of Newtown protect, rather than intimidate, students.
But many civil-rights advocates are worried. They say plenty of cities and states are only beginning to come to grips with allegations that schools, and school-based police, have unjustifiably sent students into the criminal-justice system.