Police In The Schools • ACLU study uncovers questionable practices
November 29, 2008
Students deserve a safe learning environment. Still, a report by the American Civil Liberties Union indicates some school districts with sworn police officers — known as school resource officers — may be providing security at the expense of their core mission.
The report, "Hard Lessons," examines the use of police officers for a two-year period in Hartford, East Hartford and West Hartford public schools. Among the findings:
• Black and Hispanic students who commit offenses similar to white students are far more likely to be arrested. In West Hartford, black students were about twice as likely to be arrested for fighting. In East Hartford, black and Hispanic students involved in drug-related incidents were 10 times more likely to be arrested.
• Many arrests involve very young students. In Hartford, 86 primary-grade students were arrested in school. Thirteen were in third grade and below.
Kids make mistakes. Most times, these mistakes are teachable moments, opportunities for friendly advice or, in some cases, more extensive help. Criminalizing bad behavior can have serious long-term consequences for the student as well as the learning environment.
Which is why arrests should be a last resort and be executed fairly. If the ACLU's findings are any indication, the use of school resource officers can be improved on both counts.
The push for school resource officers nationally began a decade ago with the fatal shootings of 14 students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado. In most Connecticut school districts, they're a relatively new phenomenon.
State and local education officials ought to work harder to incorporate these officers into the fabric of a learning environment. They should keep reliable and publicly accessible information on school-based arrests — something they don't do now, according to the ACLU. And they should ensure that school resource officers meet uniform, basic requirements for training and have a clearly defined mission.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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