The following editorial appeared in The Orange County Register:
Knowing that police officers are patrolling K-12 schools makes many parents feel better about sending their children off to class each day.
But how much safer do the school police make students, staff and campus property?
A real answer to this big question is hard to come by.
That’s the worrisome take-away from a new look at the subject by The Christian Science Monitor, which cites experts and anecdotes to lay out the national issue: “At a moment when officers in schools are seen by some as a solution to the threat of violence in school, the debate has been turned on its head: Are these so-called school resource officers (SROs) actually the cause of too much violence? Instead of making schools safer, are they ramping up a disciplinary arms race – unnecessarily turning typical bad behavior into criminal offenses?”
This is known: SROs are increasing in number, with the National Center for Education Statistics saying the percentage of U.S. schools having them rose from 1 in 1975 to 40 in 2014.
Among questions raised: How well are campus officers trained for tasks that often go beyond security, law and rule enforcement to include mentoring and counseling? Does aggressive campus policing leave kids with criminal records for misbehavior that would have been addressed by parents and teachers in years past? Are minorities disciplined disproportionately?
The massive Los Angeles Unified School District has the nation’s largest school police force, including more than 400 sworn officers and 100 safety officers. Speaking with an editorial writer, LA Schools Police Department Public Information Officer Sgt. Julie Spry could provide no data attesting to the force’s effectiveness.
Anecdotal reports indicate officers do many wonderful things for kids.
But The Christian Science Monitor quoted Sheri Bauman, a University of Arizona education professor: “There’s such a widespread belief that (SROs) make kids safer, yet we don’t really know that. … We need to have some scientific analyses that answer those questions.”
In an era when the public expects city and county law-enforcement agencies to provide specific data on trends in crime and officer deployment on our streets, no less should be expected from the departments protecting our schools.