Cops in the classroom: helpful or hurtful?

Veronica Kumpe, Reporter

What does protection look like? School resource officers’ primary job is to protect students. Across the country, videos and images of students being kicked, punched or thrown by men twice their size have surfaced. These accounts present a questionable definition of protection. “Protect and serve” does not leave room for excessive force.

The National Center for Mental Health Promotion and Youth Violence Prevention categorizes school resource officers’ jobs into three parts: educating, counseling and law enforcement. As educators, they speak to students and teachers about their jobs and safety. In playing the role of a counselor, officers build relationships with students and guide them through common teenage problems such as underage drinking and bad behavior before it escalates to a criminal level. As law enforcement officers, they serve to deter on campus issues such as theft and violence.

The school resource officer program has also seen some successes in crime prevention. More than 90 percent of officers report stopping between one and 25 violent acts in a school year, according to a survey of law officers conducted by the National Association of School Resource Officers. The same survey also stated 87 percent of officers have confiscated knives or blades from students.

Junior Skyler Sears said “With events like school shootings on the news, the added security of resource officers is nice.”

Fayetteville High School Resource Officer John Foster said the main responsibility of his job is to patrol and ‘be seen’. After all, simply having a police officer in sight can deter some bad behavior.

Using force in schools is reserved as a last effort, but leaked videos of students being disciplined are raising questions.

Physical restraint is not limited to high school students.

According to University of Texas School of Law, a kindergartener was “roughed up” by an officer in Abilene, Texas. The six year old with ADHD was placed in an “arm bar maneuver” typically used on adults resisting arrest because the boy did not want to go to school. When carried to class and forcefully seated, the boy’s head hit the chalkboard and desk.

The manner in which this incident was handled is more concerning. As a result the same officer was shuffled from school to school and was twice more accused of brutalizing students in the same district.

In Oct. 2015, in South Carolina a black, 16-year-old student was thrown from her chair across the floor after she refused to put her phone away.

Much like the prison system, students of color and with disabilities are disproportionately disciplined by school officers.

Although black students make up only about 16 percent of the total student population, they make up 30 percent of school related arrests, according to the Center for American Progress. The same is true among students with disabilities, as they make up 12 percent of students and about a quarter of arrests.

Although African Americans make up roughly 16 percent of the youth population they make up 37 percent of criminal courts cases. People in prison are also three times more likely to have a disability.

Minors should be held to a different standard when using force. Some officers go through job specific training.

“School specific training should definitely be required,” Foster said. “Our district requires several.”

Arkansas officers are trained in breaking the barriers of education, social media and internet safety, drug addiction in teens and cultural competency, among other workshops according to the National Association of School Resource Officers.

It may seem like common sense, but according to only 12 states require any special training for school resource officers and the federal government has no approved standards for resource officer training.

Officers working in schools should be required to learn how to deal with students with mental health issues and disabilities, as well as practice de-escalation techniques to avoid physical restraint if at all possible.

School should not be reminiscent of prisons, but by creating this hostile and discriminatory environment, they have begun to look similar. Students arrested for minor infractions or school policies are more likely to stay within the prison system, according to PBS.

There is a definite need for these authority figures, as school shootings like the Columbine High School Massacre, Sandy Hook and the Connecticut killings reveal the inherent danger In schools. Students need protection, but policing in school has shown to have many of the same problems as in society. Young students must be held to different standards than law-breaking adults, and physical force on minors should be as limited as possible.

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