Divisions remain over school resource officers
Education | Many districts opt to keep police presence for students’ safety
by Esther Eaton
Posted 1/20/21, 01:25 pm
In 2002, the day after a stabbing at the Alabama school where he worked as a school resource officer, Mo Canady arrived ready to prevent retaliation, but instead, he found himself comforting students. He remembers counselors asking him to speak with a student who had brought her pillow to school and wanted Canady’s reassurance that she was safe.
“It was just brutal. But we learned a lot of lessons from it,” said Canady, who now heads the National Association of School Resource Officers. “The biggest lesson I learned about it was the importance of recovery, and recovery looked a lot different than I thought it was going to.”
School resource officers typically work for local police departments to secure local schools and handle criminal student behavior. After nationwide anti-police protests broke out across the country this past summer, some urban school districts removed police from their buildings. Minneapolis Public Schools ended its contract with the local police department, and Denver; Oakland, Calif.; and Portland, Ore., followed suit. In August, Chicago pulled officers from 17 high schools. But the trend appears not to have caught on in much of the rest of the country. Canady said his organization hasn’t seen widespread firing of school resource officers, while requests for training spiked in 2020.
The percentage of public schools with school resource officers grew from 32 percent in 2004 to 41 percent in 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. After the 2018 shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., the state required a security officer in every school. A study of data from West Virginia schools from 2014 to 2016 found the presence of the officers increased drug crime reports and suspensions while decreasing violent crime.
Opponents of school resource officers argue their presence exacerbates discrimination against students of color and criminalizes normal behavior. Jasmine Dellafosse, a social justice activist who advocates for defunding the police, said schools should direct funding away from on-site officers and replace them with counselors, after-school programs, and other interventions: “A lot of those resources could be reallocated toward addressing other needs that young people are facing.”
In Kalamazoo, Mich., the school board voted to keep police on site after members of the public argued they are essential for safety and provide students with positive mentors. At a December Board of Education meeting, trustee Jermaine Jackson recalled visiting his child’s school and seeing an officer prevent an adult from attacking a child. “It is important to me to know that my own children are safe when they are on the school’s grounds,” Jackson said. “If we don’t have safe students, we don’t have graduated students.”
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