No cops in schools: a new age of student safety

Activist Aissa Dearing speaks against SROs at the Durham March for Black Students in June 2020.

Durham Public Schools needs to sever its Memorandum of Understanding with the Durham sheriff’s department and remove student resource officers from schools. 

In the 2020-21 budget 2.7 million dollars was allotted for SROs. Students were not in school, and students are only now returning, in reduced numbers. This was a waste of funding, and a slap in the face to the movement across America to rethink policing. 

The main argument that is given on behalf of keeping police in schools is that they prevent school shootings. This makes sense, right? It seems logical to think that armed police deter mass shootings in public spaces. However, it isn’t. In a Washington Post Analysis, out of 200 shootings only 2 were prevented by SROs. 

This is extremely ineffective. In order to prevent school shootings, preventative measures, such as increasing mental health staff and student access to treatment, need to be taken in order to identify unstable and violent students quickly. This does not actually involve cops at the offset, nor does it need to.  No clearer an example of this is there than this information from a 2019 Pirate’s Hook article: in the 2017-2018 school year there were 55 fights. In 2018-2019 there were 33. This did not line up with any increase in SROs, but rather a focus on restorative justice and a more proactive environment. 

Both restorative justice and behavioral intervention programs were shown in a study by the secret service to be able to prevent gun violence and shootings by increasing trust between students and adults, making them more likely to report threatening or suicidal behavior.  

The presence of police in schools also leads to the criminalization of students of color, especially Black students. In 43 states, and DC, Black students are more likely to be arrested at school than other students, according to the Education Week Research Center. Schools with cops are far more likely to refer students to law enforcement, even for minor, nonviolent infractions. This is blatant racism, and does not make the school environment safer. It is unfair and disrespectful to expect students to feel safe knowing that police will be called in for nonviolent infractions. It ruins students emotions towards administration, it makes students less likely to report dangerous behavior, and it makes no one safe. 

There are also a multitude of cases of police violence by SROs against children in schools. In Arizona in 2019 a sobbing six year old Black girl was handcuffed. In New Mexico in 2019 an eleven year old Black girl was shoved against a wall. These are elementary school age children. There are many more accounts of brutality against high school age children, as the majority of SROs are in high schools. 

The main counter argument to this is that police officers just need more training. To that I say: if there is another version of the world that doesn’t put weapons in schools and prioritizes the emotional health of students, it doesn’t matter whether SROs can be reformed because there is a better choice. In an ideal world where student resource officers neither abuse nor arrest students at shocking rates I would still choose restorative justice and increased access to mental health professionals for the students around me because I believe strongly that true efficiency of policy lies not in bandaid solutions to massive inequities but in solving them at the root. 

you don’t solve fights in schools by sending an armed officer to break them up, but by teaching students to process their emotions and changing the environment around them.

Violence can’t solve violence, and it is time for DPS to get with the times. This is 2021. In the wake of a global pandemic, economic downturn and America beginning to grapple with the full impacts of racism, getting rid of SROs is the bare minimum to begin healing within DPS.

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