Opinion
School Climate & Safety Opinion

As a Former Cop, I Know We Need Police-Free Schools

The arguments in favor of school resource officers don’t hold up
By Evan Douglas — February 11, 2022 4 min read
A student walks away from  the shadow of bars.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Over the past several years, I have become an unapologetic advocate for police reform. Several months ago, a group of high school activists in Lexington, Ky., rallying for Counselors Over Cops reached out to me to share my own experiences in law enforcement. When I connected with the activists from Counselors Over Cops online, I immediately wanted to get involved because of my past experience working first as a teacher and then as a police officer.

When I was a Metropolitan police department officer in the nation’s capital, I had an interaction that haunts me to this day. While driving through the city, my partner and I saw a day-care class out for recess. We pulled our cruiser alongside the playground, and the 30 or so young Black children from the day care became ecstatic when the lights on the cruiser began to flash. As we stepped outside to spend time with the kids, several were struck by the uniform and the badge.

Then, when I showed my flashlight to one of the boys, I saw a little girl crying in fear. As I walked over to her, her terror increased. I bent down to eye level and asked her what was wrong. “The police came one night and took my daddy!” she said.

I hugged her and told her, ashamed, “All police aren’t the same.” In reality, I knew it didn’t matter what an individual officer does. As long as the uniform has caused heartache to communities all across the nation, the trauma will remain.

When talking about policing in schools, school resource officers, or SROs, usually become the focus of the conversation instead of the youth. SROs have been a part of American public schools since the 1950s. Initially, they were used to build bonds between the police and youth, but, as time went on, their presence in schools has been more harmful than helpful.

The justification for the existence of school resource officers usually goes a little like this:

1. “SROs make the school safer.” This is not entirely true. A 2018 report by The Washington Post illustrated that targeted shootings are by far the most common type of school shooting, usually occurring in seconds and leaving little time for any adult intervention. School resource officers were also present in 5 out of the nation’s 6 most deadly school shootings. And while there is anecdotal evidence of shooters being deterred by officers on campus, these are matched with stories of unnecessary student deaths that result from having an armed officer on campus. A review of the research also shows there is insufficient evidence that efforts to make schools more resistant to gun attacks, including hiring SROs, has effectively lowered rates of gun violence.

2. “SROs are counselors and mentors to the students.” We cannot ignore the destruction and suffering law enforcement has caused communities. Almost three generations have been torn from their communities since the boom in overpolicing in the 1970s. Because of the war on drugs and other such programs, thousands of potential community mentors were taken from their homes. Instead of concentrating on police as mentors, we should be working toward ensuring community members are able to be community leaders.

3. “SROs work closely with teachers and education staff to ensure the optimal learning environment.” If the American Federation of Teachers, which represents 1.7 million education professionals, is pleading with government officials to adopt anti-racist practices and remove police from schools, why aren’t we listening?

At least two-thirds of American high school students attend a school where a police officer is present. The number is higher when it comes to students of color. The school-to-prison pipeline is perpetuated in these schools because teachers and administrators are more likely to refer children to law enforcement for lessserious misbehaviors. This is especially true for Black students, who are more likely to be arrested than white students at schools with officers present.

The trauma of police interaction also does not just end when kids leave school; the trauma goes home with them as well.

A 2020 CNN report that included interviews with five youth found that the students reported the presence of SROs in their school made them feel unsafe, led to incidents of excessive force from the SROs, and were less desirable than having school counselors instead. The trauma of police interaction also does not just end when kids leave school; the trauma goes home with them as well. Children throughout the country have experienced negative interactions with law enforcement. Having police in schools only exacerbates this. We cannot ignore it.

Across the nation, essential advocacy has been initiated for the fight for our kids’ well-being. At the federal level, the Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act of 2021, which was introduced in both the House and Senate in June of last year, could be a step in the right direction. If passed, the law would prohibit federal funds from being used to hire or maintain police officers in schools and instead put the resources into mental health and trauma-informed services. The District of Columbia Police Reform Commission report recommends the interjection of violence interrupters and restorative-justice practitioners to reduce potential violence on educational campuses.

Nationally, nearly 50 school districts in jurisdictions around the country, including in Oakland, Calif.; Minneapolis; and Arlington, Va., have safely removed police officers from their campuses since March 2020. More districts should follow their lead. Devoting more resources toward mental health and counseling services will lead us to an educational space free of criminalization.

Let’s continue this momentum and do what is best for the youth. Let’s save our children from the pepper spray, the body slams, and the tasers. Let’s keep police out of schools.

See Also

Greeley Police Officer Steve Brown stands in the hallway during passing periods at Northridge High School in Greeley, Colo. on Oct. 21, 2016. While school resource officers, like Brown, are expected to handle responsibilities like any police officer they're faced with unique challenges working day-to-day in schools
Greeley Police Officer Steve Brown stands in the hallway during passing periods at Northridge High School in Greeley, Colo. While school resource officers, like Brown, are expected to handle responsibilities like any police officer, they're faced with unique challenges working day-to-day in schools.
Joshua Polson/The Greeley Tribune/AP
School Climate & Safety Explainer School Resource Officers (SROs), Explained
Stephen Sawchuk, November 16, 2021
13 min read

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the February 23, 2022 edition of Education Week as A Former Cop’s Case For Police-Free Schools

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
IT Infrastructure Webinar
A New Era In Connected Learning: Security, Accessibility and Affordability for a Future-Ready Classroom
Learn about Windows 11 SE and Surface Laptop SE. Enable students to unlock learning and develop new skills.
Content provided by Microsoft Surface
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum Making Technology Work Better in Schools
Join experts for a look at the steps schools are taking (or should take) to improve the use of technology in schools.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
The ABCs of ESSER: How to Make the Most of Relief Funds Before They Expire
Join a diverse group of K-12 experts to learn how to leverage federal funds before they expire and improve student learning environments.
Content provided by Johnson Controls

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety Responding to Student Threats: Schools Wrestle With How to Prevent Violence
The Buffalo shooting suspect made a threat at school last year, but wasn't flagged under the state's red flag law.
10 min read
A rifle hangs on display in the window of the West Endicott & Susquehanna Arms Co., Monday, May 16, 2022, where the Buffalo shooting suspect purchased fire arms in Endicott, N.Y.
A rifle hangs on display in the window of an Endicott, N.Y., gun shop where the Buffalo shooting suspect purchased firearms.
Michael Hill/AP
School Climate & Safety Grief, Anger, Fear: How Teachers Can Help Students Cope With the Buffalo Shooting
After a gunman killed 10 people in a racist attack, teachers again wrestled with how to explain hate and mass violence to students.
A person pays his respects outside the scene of a shooting at a supermarket, in Buffalo, N.Y., Sunday, May 15, 2022.
A mourner pays his respects outside the scene of a racially-motivated mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y.
Matt Rourke/AP
School Climate & Safety Accused Gunman in Buffalo Shooting Was Investigated for Threat to His School
The gunman was never charged with a crime and had no further contact with law enforcement after his release from a hospital, officials said.
3 min read
Police walk outside the Tops grocery store on Sunday, May 15, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y. A white 18-year-old wearing military gear and livestreaming with a helmet camera opened fire with a rifle at the supermarket, killing and wounding people in what authorities described as “racially motivated violent extremism.” (AP Photo/Joshua Bessex)
School Climate & Safety Fla. School Board Reverses Decision to Censor Yearbook Photos From ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Protest
The Seminole County School Board scrapped the plan in response to public backlash.
Skyler Swisher, Orlando Sentinel
2 min read
Demonstrators gather on the steps of the Florida Historic Capitol Museum in front of the Florida State Capitol, Monday, March 7, 2022, in Tallahassee, Fla. Florida House Republicans advanced a bill, dubbed by opponents as the "Don't Say Gay" bill, to forbid discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, rejecting criticism from Democrats who said the proposal demonizes LGBTQ people.
Demonstrators gather on the steps of the Florida Historic Capitol Museum in front of the Florida State Capitol, Monday, March 7, 2022, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP