• By Morgan Craven, J.D. • IDRA Newsletter • June-July 2022 •
We do not need police in our schools. Despite the mounting evidence of the harm school-based police programs can cause to students and school communities, many school leaders and policymakers wrongly view them as an important “safety” measure. Below are important facts about school policing that we must consider as we strive to create safe, excellent and equitable schools for all students, every day.
Fact: Police contact can push students into the school-to-prison pipeline, exposing them to issues – missed classroom time, grade retention, attrition, and contact with the juvenile justice and criminal legal systems – that can impact the likelihood they will graduate and enroll in college (Gottfredson, et al., 2020; Gottlieb & Wilson, 2019; Nance, 2016; Ryan, et al., 2018; Weisburst, 2018).
Fact: Black students, other students of color, LGBTQ+ youth and students with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by the presence of school police. National data show that Black students are more likely than their peers to be arrested and referred to law enforcement in their schools, despite not being more likely to break school rules. In the 2017-18 school year, Black students accounted for 32% of reported arrests in U.S. schools, though they only made up 15% of the total student population (CRDC, 2021).
Instead of misusing resources on harmful law enforcement programs, policymakers and school administrators should invest in the school personnel and programs that work to protect students and increase safety.
Following high-profile school shootings, police presence and other surveillance measures (like metal detectors and cameras) are directed most to the schools that serve primarily students of color, even controlling for levels of reported crime at the school and in the surrounding community (Anderson, 2016; Nance, 2017).
This means that increasing law enforcement as a response to school violence is often a policy decision based on the race of the students in the school, not on real safety concerns at a campus.
Fact: Higher arrest, suspension and expulsion rates are associated with a police presence in schools (Homer & Fisher, 2019). One study found a 6% increase in exclusionary discipline rates, with a disproportionate increase for Latino and Black students and students from families with limited incomes, following an increase in resources for school policing programs (Weisburst, 2018).
Fact: Students can experience physical harm and trauma due to violent interactions with law enforcement officers who are able to use tasers, pepper spray, and other weapons and force. Nearly 200 such incidents have been tracked across the country since 2007 (Alliance for Educational Justice, 2022).
See infographic: Build Safe Schools, Reject Hurtful Policies – Policy Responses to School Safety
The facts are clear. A regular police presence in schools is ineffective, unnecessary and can lead to the targeting of Black and Latino students, LGBTQ+ youth, and young people with disabilities.
Instead of misusing resources on harmful law enforcement programs, policymakers and school administrators should invest in the school personnel and programs that work to protect students and increase safety. For more information about what true school safety looks like for all students, see other articles in this newsletter and IDRA’s issue brief, What Safe Schools Should Look Like for Every Student: A Guide to Building Safe and Welcoming Schools and Rejecting Policies that Hurt Students at https://idra.news/SafeSchoolsIB.
Alliance for Educational Justice. (2022). #AssaultAtMap, Policy Free Schools, webpage. Alliance for Educational Justice, Advancement Project.
Anderson, M.D. (September 12, 2016). When School Feels Like Prison. The Atlantic.
CDRC. (2021). 2017-18 State and National Estimations. U.S. Department of Education, Civil Rights Data Collection.
Craven, M. (June 16, 2022). What Safe Schools Should Look Like for Every Student – A Guide to Building Safe and Welcoming Schools and Rejecting Policies that Hurt Students, Issue Brief. IDRA.
Homer, E., & Fisher, B.W. (April 2019). Police in schools and student arrest rates across the United States: Examining differences by race, ethnicity, and gender. Journal of School Violence 19(4):1-13. DOI:10.1080/15388220.2019.1604377
Gottfredson, D., Crosse, S., Tang, Z., Bauer, E.L., Harmon, M.A., Hagen, C.A., & Greene, A.D. (2020). Effects of School Resource Officers on School Crime and Responses to School Crime. Criminology and Public Policy, 19, No. 3.
Gottlieb, A., & Wilson, R. (2019). The Effect of Direct and Vicarious Police Contact on the Educational Achievement of Urban Teens. Children and Youth Services Review, Vol. 103, 190-199.
Nance, J. (2017). Student Surveillance, Racial Inequalities, and Implicit Racial Bias. Emory Law Journal, Vol. 66, 765.
Nance, J. (2016). Students, Police, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline. Washington Law Review, Vol. 93, 919-987.
Ryan, J.B., Katsiyannis, A., Counts, J.M., & Shelnut, J.C. (2018). The Growing Concerns Regarding School Resource Officers. Intervention in School and Clinic, Vol. 53, 188-192.
Weisburst, E. (2018). Patrolling Public Schools: The Impact of Funding for School Police on Student Discipline and Long-Term Education Outcomes. Education Research Center, University of Texas at Austin.
Morgan Craven, J.D., is the IDRA national director of policy, advocacy and community engagement. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2022, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the June-July 2022 issue of the IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]