Saye Joseph, Staff Writer
School Resource Officers (SROs) are placed in schools in the hopes of improving the relationship between law enforcement and citizens. The intended role of SROs is to prevent and respond to school-based crime, create a positive relationship among law enforcement, educators, and youth, and promote a positive school environment. However, SROs are perpetuating the school to prison pipeline, and worsening the already brittle relationship law enforcement has with minority communities.
Since the 1990s, local police agencies have placed armed officers in high schools, middle schools and sometimes elementary schools. Following the Newtown, Connecticut mass shooting in which 20 out of the 26 victims were children, policy makers proposed an increase in police officers based in schools in hopes of intervening on potential juvenile delinquency. However, confrontation between armed police officers and students in schools is becoming more frequent. We all saw the video of a high school girl rocketed out of her chair then slammed to the floor because she refused to put her phone away. Or in Irving, Texas a boy who brought in his home made clock to show his science teacher, and was arrested and accused of bringing a “hoax bomb.” Many disillusioned people commented on social media stating that the officer did his job, and that if it were their child they would expect nothing less from SRO conduct. But they are wrong to say these are fair and necessary standards of conduct for an officer responding to classroom disruption. These incidents are few in the plethora of daily events that show how our kids, especially minority children, are being criminalized for typical adolescent behavior.
According to the US Department of Education of for Civil Rights, attempts to crackdown on school violence have come at the expense of students of color, and students with disabilities, who are disproportionately punished. Often times, these students are being arrested for incidents that would fall under classroom management, responsibilities that should rest with teachers, principals or guidance counselors.
As of now, there is no comprehensive data on the effectiveness of SROs and their impact on deterring juvenile crime, but the most striking impact seen thus far is the drastic increase in arrests or misdemeanor charges for nonviolent behavior, including truancy, cursing, and using cellphones in class – all which sends children into the criminal system.This has become another easy way to funnel the youngest people into the prison system.
School Resource Officers lack the proper training needed to interact effectively with children, especially black, Hispanic, or disabled children. They need additional training that will allow them to understand youth development and how to de-escalate situation involving youth rather then arresting them when its not necessary. SROs have the same training as other members of their police or sheriff department, but they spend one percent or less on juvenile justice issues. Viable components that need urgently to integrated in the SRO training include: 1) training SROs and teachers to be more aware of their implicit biases towards minority students, 2) include training on youth development and psychology, demographic issues, or cultural influences, and 3) provide in school Student – SRO mentor program, which will allow officers to serve as a positive role model for students. Incorporating these criteria into SRO’s training will enable them to accomplish their intended goal, divert students from the criminal justice system. But as it stands, SROs create an incubator for criminals, rather than being positive problem solvers and liaisons.
Saye Joseph is a first year student MPA-PNP Policy Analysis student. Her interests are advocating for underserved communities and seeking criminal justice reform.