I read with great interest a report dated November 15th, 2011 by the Justice Policy Institute entitled “Education Under Arrest: The Case Against Police in Schools” I’m not sure how many School Based Officers are aware of this extremely misleading and factually inaccurate report, but I recommend that those in the school safety arena read it and feel free to post comments here or on other blogs.
While many of you know me, I’ll be brief in that my comments stem from my extensive background in School Based Policing, and youth related school violence and bullying. Having served as a School Resource Officer and SRO Supervisor in both Broward and Palm Beach County’s for over 18+ years as well as the founder of, and Executive Director of the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) and currently the Executive Director of the School Safety Advocacy Council (SSAC) for the past 6 years. I continue to serve on the Juvenile Justice Committee for the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), have spoken extensively across the globe on school based policing and school violence, and have appeared on every television networking discussing school violence and bullying trends. All this said, so that I can say I find this report published by Amanda Petteruti of the Justice Policy Institute to be so very troubling, although I feel parents and the youth themselves will not side with this reports inaccurate conclusions and school districts will equally find the information to be flat wrong.
The report can be found at http://www.justicepolicy.org/research/3177 and again, I truly recommend you take the time to read the report in its entirety including the recommendations made by a person who has never walked in the shoes of a school based officer or has any real understanding of school based violence or victimization. I’ll make a couple of points, but I hope to commission a panel to discuss this further at the NATIONAL SCHOOL SAFETY CONFERENCE, scheduled for July 23-27, 2011 at the Walt Disney World Swan Resort in Orlando.
Let me first start by saying this is not the first report of its kind where some non-school based person takes a shot at the school based policing profession and nor do I think it will be the last. Our society has established this trend that I saw coming years ago, when I fought and lobbied hard for the United States Department of Education refused to ever listen to me or my colleagues when we urged them to CONSIDER the implementation of a school crime reporting mandate that would provide a clearer, more accurate picture of school crime and violence. Similar to the Cleary Act at the College level. Those calls to this day fall on deaf ears and have done so in the Clinton, Bush and now Obama administration. But instead, we got something called “No Child Left Behind”, and buried deep in that legislation was the creation of the “Persistently Dangerous School” section, whereby schools that met a certain criteria (developed by each state) could be labled as “Persistantly Dangerous” and that title can trigger a series of events that can be quite costly for the school, not to mention the reputation of what may have been an excellent school Principal not stuck with the title of “Administrator of the Dangerous School”, a title that can shorten his/her career. Again, its always been the age old question of “Is the school with higher stats just better at reporting their crime and violence”??
Anyway, back to Ms. Petteruti’s report.
She states, >>Fueled by increasingly punitive approaches to student behavior such as “zero
tolerance policies,” the past 20 years have seen an expansion in the presence of law
enforcement, including school resource officers (SROs), in schools.<<
The SRO Concept which dates as far back as the 1950′s was not created (or fueled) by “Punitive” approaches to zero tolerance. I would challenge the author to cite factual bases to that statement. The early roots to placing officers in schools was nothing more than early attempts to bridge the gaps between police officers and kids. Perhaps the author confused the SRO concept with that of the DARE Officers that went into schools as a result of growing drug trends and the zero tolerance to drugs that schools addressed. However even the early DARE Officers usually had guidelines prohibiting them from actually making arrests and many were unarmed (which is a foolish thing itself, but that’s another article). The SRO Program continued to receive praise among parents and the program was really looked upon as an extension of the “Officer Friendly” programs that were also increasing. Along that time, we also saw increases in PAL (Police Athletic Leagues) and the start of officers teaching “Stranger Danger” programs. Many schools saw the potential of these programs as students were more responsive and agencies during these early years (1950s to 1980s) typically did a good job of selecting the right officer to work the schools. I often said early on, the SRO’s concept was the best example of “Community Oriented Policing” that existed as the school often had the same issues of any other part of the community but in many cases had serious issues that were not reported to police. We continue to see that today.
Now the one issue I will agree with is that many communities and school districts have become “Zero Tolerance” crazy in that it is such a popular terms to run politically on that one does have to scratch their head and wonder “how tolerant were we on GUNS before were went to zero tolerance”?? However, we saw zero tolerance policies on drugs, fighting, bullying, firearms and more. And in many cases these laws and policies removed “police discretion” from the equation as well as common sense. And although the actual number of ill applied policies may be relatively small, it was those ill applied cases that often made news. Its the age old story, I’m sure we can find cases where SRO’s in schools could have made better decisions, but the vast majority are caring, dedicated man and woman who truly enjoy working with young people and in most cases look for every opportunity to DEFER a student from the criminal justice system rather then rush them into it. Fact be known, as a working SRO myself I would use arrest as the last possible course of action, because one the arrest was executed it was a real opportunity for the student to find out what a joke our criminal justice system can be and the fear of a future arrest for criminal activity did’t quite have the same impact.
>>>With reported rates of school violence and theft
are at the lowest levels since data were first
collected by the National Center for Education
Statistics in 1992,4<<<
Again, this has long been a issue as you know, that we truly have no accurate crime reporting stats for schools. The best we have may be the “Indicators of school crime” or similar non-mandated surveys which are a random sampling of school administrators.
>>>>POLICE INTERROGATE A STUDENT FOR
FIRING SPIT BALLS
In winter of 2011, police interrogated a 14-year-old
Spotsylvania County, Virginia student for shooting plastic
“spitwads” at other students in the hallway. The student
was ultimately given suspension for the remainder of the
school year (approximately 6 months), which the student
and the family were challenging at the time of the news
broadcast about the incident.
The father of the student told Fox News: “It takes four state
agencies to go after someone with a spitwad: It takes the
sheriff’s department, the commonwealth attorney, the
school board on various levels and the department of
juvenile justice … what a fine use of taxpayer resources.”
Source: Diane Macedo, “Virginia Teen Suspended, Facing
Criminal Charges for Shooting Plastic Spitballs in School”, Fox
News, February, 3, 2011.
Again, I too know of cases where zero tolerance has been ill applied however citing cases like the above, with links to the case that cite the “News Reported” version of the story, rather then the police report version are to me poor examples for making your case.
Naturally a kid throwing a pencil at another kid, or a kid shooting a spit ball at another kid would seem like a rather small issue to bring to an officers attention, yet in many cases these and other cases are driven by the victim’s parents who know that regardless of how minor, it “could” still constitute an assault and/or battery and demand a criminal investigation. Perhaps the parent would not have driven to the police station and reported same, and they are familiar with the SRO so they ask for a case number and that starts the process. The SRO is hardly to blame for that. Likewise, we see countless silly cases filed neighbor on neighbor that were investigated and in some cases led to criminal charges yet that doesn’t mean we should remove officers from our streets??
Its sounds as though the author is trying to say that in some way the officer at the school is to blame for the “law” that is being either applied or enforced? Now I will give in that there has been a shift in school based policing over the years. What I DO see as troubling were the number of school district police departments created over the past 10 years to replace city/county officers. In many cases the school district hires officers that have NO police experience outside the schoolyard and thus have their learning and training ground be that of the school. I think we can point to a few studies that show that rookie officers apply the letter of the law and use discretion less then that of seasoned officers.
>>>>Perhaps more importantly,
the involvement of SROs in schools precludes
the option for teachers and faculty to use conflict
to teach students how to resolve differences
Maybe I am missing something here but the SRO is merely a “resource” to the school, not a replacement for years of other effective programs or strategies that may still be the better option? Often times this can be seen as a communication flaw between the law enforcement agency and the school administration for not having discussed the SRO’s role and acknowledging a clear understanding of it prior to implementation. The SRO should not be viewed as just an officer at a school, but rather a concept whereby the school and community become stakeholders for the benefit of keeping young people safe. Many SRO’s assist the school in the development of the critical incident plans, school evacuations and a much faster response to injured or sick students. Over the year’s since Columbine, one can point to a number of planned Columbine style attacks that were halted simply due to the relationship between students and the individual officer.
>>>>>>>SCHOOL GUARDS BREAK CHILD’S ARM AND ARREST HER FOR DROPPING
School security guards in Palmdale, CA have been caught on camera assaulting a 16-year-old girl
and breaking her arm. The incident started when the girl dropped some cake after being bumped in a
lunch line. She was ordered to clean and re-clean the spot several times. After being told to re-clean
the spot for a fourth time, she tried to leave the area, but was stopped by a security officer. The girl
said that the officer forced her onto a table, yelled, “hold still nappy-head”, and broke her wrist in the
process. The altercation was caught on camera.<<<<<<
Not sure why the author included a news report that was not about an SRO, but rather a security officer? As a matter of fact, since the popularity of SRO’s grew in the 90′s, we have even seen private security companies provide non-sworn guards at schools, calling them “School Resource Officers”.
I would further argue the salary comparisons as MOST SRO’s are not “Detectives” and the author is not factoring in they are working 12 months employees compared to those listed working 10-11 month jobs. Aagain, you have to factor in that most agencies do try to place a more senior officer at a school, thus the higher salary, compared to the salaries of newer teachers that are being factored in her report.
Again, I could go on and on about this skewed report, but do hope to have some feedback posted.
Curtis S. Lavarello
School Safety Advocacy Council