School Climate & Safety

Community Policing Task Force Has Recommendations for Schools, Too

By Evie Blad — March 02, 2015 4 min read
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The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing delivered its recommendations on strengthening relationships between law enforcement officers and the communities they protect to the White House today. Those recommendations, detailed in a 115-page interim report, include many that apply to schools and the way police interact with students.

Many of those recommendations will sound familiar to those who pay attention to school climate debates: School police shouldn’t be involved in routine discipline, officers should work to build positive relationships with young people, and there should be a multi-sector approach to tackling youth justice issues, the report says.

President Obama created the task force through an executive order as part of a series of actions taken in response to unrest following the police shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., last summer. The group—chaired by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and George Mason University Professor Laurie Robinson—included law enforcement representatives, community leaders, academics, and youth leaders.

The group gathered testimony from all sorts of stakeholders and researchers, including many who will be familiar to those in school climate circles. They included: Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers; Russell Skiba, director of the Equity Project at Indiana University, who is known for his research on school discipline disparities; and members of the Dignity in Schools Campaign.

Here is a bit more detail about some of the report’s school-related recommendations.

Law enforcement agencies should “create opportunities in schools and communities for positive, nonenforcement interactions with police.”

“For example, Michael Reynolds, a member of the Youth and Law Enforcement panel at the Listening Session on Community Policing and Crime Reduction, told the moving story of a police officer who saw him shivering on the street when he was six years old, took him to a store, and bought him a coat,” the report says."Despite many negative encounters with police since then, the decency and kindness of that officer continue to favorably impact Mr. Reynolds’ feelings towards the police.”

Law enforcement should collect and analyze data “disaggregated by school and non-school contacts.”

This data, which should include information on frisks, searches, summons, and arrests to help identify trends and the effectiveness of policies, the report says.

Policies should address needs of at-risk children.

“Communities should adopt policies and programs that address the needs of children and youth most at risk for crime or violence and reduce aggressive law enforcement tactics that stigmatize youth and marginalize their participation in schools and communities,” the report says, citing “an explosion of knowledge about adolescent development and the neurological underpinnings of adolescent behavior” that has emerged in the last decade.

“These findings have raised doubts about a series of policies and practices of ‘zero tolerance’ that have contributed to increasing the school-to-prison pipeline by criminalizing the behaviors of children as young as kindergarten age,” the report says. “Noncriminal offenses can escalate to criminal charges when officers are not trained in child and adolescent development and are unable to recognize and manage a child’s emotional, intellectual, and physical development issues. School district policies and practices that push students out of schools and into the juvenile justice system cause great harm and do no good.”

Law enforcement should not be involved in routine school discipline matters.

As officers work to protect schools, they should also work to draft memomoranda of understanding with districts to ensure clear boundaries in their interactions with students so that discipline issues can be left to administrators and educators, the report says. The National Association of School Resource Officers has supported such recommendations in the past.

The recommendation is accompanied by this testimony from a student about an encounter with a school-based police officer during his freshman year of high school.

As I walked down the hall, one of the police officers employed in the school noticed I did not have my identification badge with me. Before I could explain why I did not have my badge, I was escorted to the office and suspended for an entire week. I had to leave the school premises immediately. Walking to the bus stop, a different police officer pulled me over and demanded to know why I was not in school. As I tried to explain, I was thrown into the back of the police car. They drove back to my school to see if I was telling the truth, and I was left waiting in the car for over two hours. When they came back, they told me I was in fact suspended, but because the school did not provide me with the proper forms, my guardian and I both had to pay tickets for me being off of school property. The tickets together were 600 dollars, and I had a court date for each one. Was forgetting my ID worth missing school? Me being kicked out of school did not solve or help anything. I was at home alone watching Jerry Springer, doing nothing."

Police should partner with schools to help improve discipline policies and practices.

“Education and criminal justice agencies at all levels of government should work together to reform policies and procedures that push children into the juvenile justice system,” the report says.

Law enforcement agencies should encourage schools to adopt alternatives to suspensions and expulsions, such as counseling and restorative justice, through a collaborative process that involves students, families, and community members, the report says. Those strategies should involve youth in decisionmaking to strengthen their voice and social-emotional skills, the report says, listing as examples restorative practices, youth courts, and peer interventions.

And agencies “should work with schools to create a continuum of developmentally appropriate and proportional consequences for addressing ongoing and escalating student misbehavior after all appropriate interventions have been attempted,” the report says.

Photo: President Barack Obama speaks during a meeting with members of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing on Monday at the White House. Joining the President are Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, center, and Brittany Packnett, executive director of Teach For America in St. Louis. -Jacquelyn Martin/AP

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.