School Climate & Safety

In Georgia, Schools More Likely to Hire Police With Troubled Pasts, Report Says

By Evie Blad — May 26, 2017 2 min read
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School police departments in Georgia hire police officers who were fired from previous jobs or who “resigned under the cloud of an investigation” at twice the rate of other local police departments, an investigation by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News found.

According to the report:

Roughly 12 percent of the 656 officers working in the state’s 31 school police departments have been forced out of a previous job, versus about 6 percent of the officers who work in local police agencies, according to data obtained from the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council (POST), the state agency charged with certifying police. The officers were terminated or investigated for a wide range of reasons, including chronically poor performance, lying to superiors, sexual misconduct and inappropriate use of force, according to POST documents.

Atlanta’s new school police department hired officers who were fired or forced to resign at an even higher rate, about 14.1 percent of the sworn personnel in the 71-officer department, the paper reports.

“For the most part our officers have been very productive,” Atlanta schools police chief Ron Applin told the Journal-Constitution. “While they may have made mistakes in the past, they’ve fared very well with us.”

As we reported in our Policing America’s Schools series, Atlanta started its own school police force for the 2016-17 school year in hopes of having greater control of the training and screening of its officers. The district wants to train its officers in restorative practices and working with students as part of a comprehensive social-emotional learning plan. The school system is working with researchers and using a federal grant to test the effectiveness of its efforts.

When I visited in November, Applin told me the plan was a work in progress, but that he’d seen promising interactions between officers and students.

The newspaper’s investigation touches on some concerns of civil rights groups, many of which advocate for removing law enforcement from schools altogether. Those organizations argue that the role of law enforcement conflicts with a supportive school environment and that the presence of school police too often leads to punitive discipline, especially in for students of color. An Education Week analysis of the most recent federal data, from 2013-14, found that in 43 states and the District of Columbia, black students are arrested at school at disproportionately high levels.

That may be in part because black students are more likely to attend schools with on-site officers.

Education Week‘s data analysis found that 74 percent of black high school students attend a school with at least one on-site law enforcement officer, compared with 71 percent of both Hispanic and multiracial high school students, and 65 percent of both Asian and white high school students.

The disparity is more pronounced at the middle school level, where 59 percent of black students attend schools with law enforcement, compared with 49 percent of both Hispanic and multiracial students, 47 percent of white students, and 40 percent of Asian students.

These statistics mean issues with how school police are screened, trained, and disciplined are automatically equity issues, civil rights groups argue.

The Journal-Constitution notes a new Georgia law that creates special training and certification requirements for school resource officers, which are relatively rare.

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