School Resource Officers: More Harm Than Good

Anyone who has seen just one of the numerous videos floating around the interwebs of police officers assaulting students in schools should care about what is happening to our children in the place where they are supposed to feel safest. Check out those videos here, here, and here. These so-called police officers are actually school resource officers (SROs for short) and people across the U.S. and Canada are finally taking notice that they do more harm than good.

It is no secret that children of color and those living in low-income communities are arrested disproportionately and introduced into the system at higher rates than their White/Caucasian and higher-income peers. The disparity between black and white student suspensions is even higher in schools with increased security measures and, within his data set, nearly two-thirds of African-American students were going to schools in the highest third in terms of security level. Read more here.

SROs were originally hired to bridge the gap between law enforcement and these communities and to keep schools safe from shootings and intruders, but I would argue that having them in schools has the opposite intended effect. Due to SRO presence and racist mandatory reporting policies even more juveniles are being introduced to the system unnecessarily. Texas Appleseed, an organization that attempts to eradicate the school-to-prison pipeline, is asking Dallas ISD to recognize that SRO presence is hurting children rather than helping them. They urged the district to get rid of them and provide better training for school administrators to deal with the problems in-house. Read that letter here.

When “handling” leads to a suspension or worse, it can have an adverse effect on a student’s development. A study by The Council of State Governments Justice Center found that, when controlled for campus and individual student characteristics, being suspended or expelled made a student nearly three times more likely to come into contact with the juvenile justice system within the next year. Read more here. Why should we care? Once in the juvenile system, the experience becomes normalized and kids’ chances of recidivism increase. Not only does this make communities less safe, it makes children less safe.

Activists are starting to speak out about this issue, but more can certainly be done. Canadian officials just pushed back the vote until December, meaning there will not be any resolution for at least another school year. Read all about Canada here.

What can we do in the U.S.? Get out there and vote for democratic officials who will fight for the rights of low-income children. Call your Congressman or local official and tell them that this is an issue you care about. Talk about this issue with family, friends, co-workers. Find a local place to volunteer or reach out to a teacher or administrator and ask how you can support them. It is easy to feel hopeless in today’s political climate, but we are not. There is always something we can do.

Molly Bagshaw

About Molly Bagshaw

Molly is a second-year law student at the University of Houston Law Center. Molly graduated from Princeton University in 2013 with a degree in sociology, African American studies, and spanish. Molly then served as a Teach for America corps member for two years in a Title One school in Fort Worth, Texas and spent the next year working for the San Francisco Public Defender's Office. Molly has worked for numerous lawyers and public defenders, and is committed to a career in indigent defense. She is excited to be spending this summer working at the Juvenile Public Defender in Travis County to pursue this goal in an environment that encompasses everything she is passionate about.

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