Researchers from the University of Maryland and Westat published a study in the journal Criminology & Public Policy, which found that increasing the number of police officers in schools led to harsher criminalization of discipline without improving school safety. C.J. Ciaramella discussed the findings of this 105-school study in an August 2020 article published by Reason. The article comes amid demands for police reform as school districts across the country reconsider the use of police officers as a measure of safety.
The study followed 33 public middle and high schools in California that increased their number of school resource officers (SROs) and compared them with 72 similar schools that did not. The study found that, “increasing the number of SROs led to both immediate and persistent increases in the number of drug and weapon offenses and the number of exclusionary disciplinary actions against students.” The researchers concluded that rather than deter crime in schools, increasing the number of officers leads to higher rates of criminal and exclusionary responses to issues that could be more effectively resolved.
Civil liberty groups have long argued that, “increases in school police and zero-tolerance policies for petty disturbances have fueled the “school-to-prison” pipeline and led to disproportionate enforcement against minorities.” Story #25 in Project Censored’s 2021 yearbook titled, “Studies Document Links Between Education, Incarceration, and Recidivism,” highlighted different studies which found a similar relation between school suspension and incarcerations rates.
Along with increasing the criminal and exclusionary responses to student behavior, numerous videos have surfaced of school officers using excessive force on students, and arresting children as young as six. Body camera footage of an SRO in Florida shows the officer trying and failing to arrest an eight-year-old boy, “whose wrists were too small for the cuffs.” Another video emerged which shows Chicago officers who kicked, punched, and tased a 16-year-old high school girl in 2019.
Progress towards decreasing the number of SROs in schools has begun, as public schools in Chicago, San Francisco, and Oakland have moved to cut their police budgets. Schools in Minneapolis, Denver, Seattle, Charlottesville, and Portland have ended or suspended their relationship with local police.
Despite national outrage over wrongful police action and demands for police reform, the studied effect of police officers in schools remains undiscussed in the mainstream media. Chicago Sun-Times and Today have published articles discussing the efficacy of police officers in schools, but did not touch on the school-to-prison pipeline or increased criminalization of school discipline. Larger outlets such as NBC News have reported on isolated incidents of police violence in schools, but have yet to discuss the larger systemic changes needed to keep students safe.
C.J. Ciaramella, “Study: More Cops in Schools Lead to Harsher Discipline, Don’t Make School Safer,” Reason, August 20, 2020, https://reason.com/2020/08/20/study-more-cops-in-schools-lead-to-harsher-discipline-dont-make-school-safer/.
Student Researcher: Zach McNanna (North Central College)
Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)