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Why Are Police in School? Because Police Are More Easily Funded!

September 7, 2016

SFGate reprinted an article from The Conversation by Aaron Kupchik titled “Why Are Police Inside Public Schools?” In the article Mr. Kupchik reviews the trends that led to the current situation where over 75% of the schools in the nation have either a policeman or security guard on duty and the consequences of that trend. Some of the consequences have been discussed in this blog earlier: the criminalization of misconduct in schools that led to higher arrest rates among poor minority students; the implicit acceptance of a world where police presence is a given; the incompatibility of a law enforcement approach to discipline and the nurturing and supportive environment that is needed– especially in elementary and middle schools. But in my analysis of the assignment of police to schools I overlooked how this is perceived by law enforcement officers themselves:

In many of these schools, police officers are being asked to deal with a range of issues that are very different from traditional policing duties, such as being a mental health counselor for a traumatized child. This is an unfair request.

Days after the recent tragedy in Dallas, for example, as he grieved for the five slain officers, Dallas Police Chief David Brown referred to this problem when he said,

We’re asking cops to do too much in this country… Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, let the cops handle it. … Schools fail, let’s give it to the cops… ”

Chief Brown is right: in assigning police to schools, by expecting them to be “…a mental health counselor for a traumatized child” we ARE expecting too much from police and from security guards. But there’s a reason schools employ police instead of social workers: the public is far more likely to support a privatized security guard or locally funded police officer to a social worker or psychologist. The public prefers a quick, cheap, and easy solution to the “school safety crisis” to one that is slow, expensive and complicated. And chief Brown’s quote regarding the police’s workload could be echoed by school administrators and school boards across the country as follows:

We’re asking teachers to do too much in this country… Every societal failure, we put it off on the teachers to solve. Not enough mental health funding, let the teachers handle it. … Schools fail, let’s blame the teachers and hand it off to someone else who will do the job more cheaply… ”

Fixing schools requires more than replacing one set of beleaguered teachers with another set of newer, younger teachers. It requires more than establishing a tough discipline code that results in higher suspension, expulsion, and drop out rates. It requires more than replacing one management system with another. It requires coordinated early intervention with children who are experiencing challenges because their parents are unable to find work, are unable or unwilling to provide a nurturing and supportive environment at home, or are literally or figuratively absent from their lives. It will require money, time, and trial and error. Expecting more from police, or teachers, or social workers who are already putting in long hours and doing their best to help children won’t be sufficient. And giving up by locking up hasn’t worked. Let’s try something different.


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