Placing police officers on school campuses is nothing new. But in response to the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, and elsewhere, the idea is gaining traction. It’s also coming under fire by some youth advocates, judges and criminologists.
A recent New York Times article examines the effectiveness, and some of the unintended consequences, of hiring police officers to deter crime and keep students safe from each other. The article reports a surge in arrests or misdemeanor charges against children in schools where officers are stationed. Critics charge that most of the cases are essentially nonviolent — scuffles, truancy, cursing at teachers — that are better handled in the principal’s office.
As Denise C. Gottfredson, a criminologist at the University of Maryland who studies school violence, told the Times: “There is no evidence that placing officers in the schools improves safety. And it increases the number of minor behavior problems that are referred to the police, pushing kids into the criminal system.”
Civil rights groups, including the Washington, D.C.-based Advancement Project, object in a recent report to the disproportionate number of arrests and citations given to students who are black, Hispanic or have disabilities.
In Texas, where police officers based in schools reportedly write more than 100,000 misdemeanor tickets each year, youth advocacy and civil rights groups have filed a complaint with the federal Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights.
However, in parts of the state, according to the Times article, the outcry may be changing the approach to policing in schools:
With new guidelines and training, ticketing within the Houston schools was reduced by 60 percent in one year. Citations for “disruption of classes,” for example, fell to 124 between September and February, from 927 in the same period last year.
“Writing tickets is easy,” one of the Houston officers told the Times. “We do it the hard way, talking with the kids and coaching them.”
What do you think?
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Photo: Dallas Morning News