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Higher Arrest Rates Collateral Damage When Schools Add SROs

March 8, 2018

In “Getting Real About School Safety“, Common Dreams writer Karen Dolan describes one of the by-products— or to use a military euphemism “collateral damage”— that occurs when schools increase their security staff: our students — especially back, Latino, indigenous, LGBTQ, disabled, and low-income students– experience more problems. She writes:

The presence of cops in schools has markedly increased the number of these kids who end up in the juvenile justice system — including for minor offenses like graffiti and subjective, childish behavior like “disorderly conduct” and “disobedience.”

As of 2014, 43 states and the District of Columbia arrested black students at school at disproportionately high rates. And black students were far more likely than any other racial or ethnic group to attend schools that employ SROs.

This is no small matter. These types of arrests, detentions, and referrals increase the likelihood that children will have further encounters with the criminal legal system, drop out of school, and suffer unemployment later on.

In other words, the presence of armed officers in schools doesn’t protect our kids. It puts them at risk.

Urban schools with SROs and beefed up security have seen what happens, and many progressive activists have accurately called it the “school-to-prison-pipeline”…. Before ALL public schools conclude that more “good guys with guns” are needed or more security devices will solve the problem they should see how this has played out in urban schools.

So what should schools do to improve security? The solution offered by Ms. Dolan is to soften schools:

A better way forward for school safety is to invest in training teachers in social, emotional, and academic development (SEAD) to spot and address trauma and stress — to see and teach the whole child. And to invest in restorative justice practices that nurture kids while holding them accountable, to help kids move on from small infractions before things escalate.

Our gun-soaked society is a critical piece of the problem, and strong gun control laws can begin to address that. But another critical piece of the problem is a punitive society that targets vulnerable children for non-violent offenses.

Instead of arming schools — which benefits only the NRA and lawmakers who’ve been bought by them — what our education system needs is resources to support the healthy development of all students.

Then we’re getting real about school safety.

Will we get real or will we continue buying into the agreeable fantasy that good guys with guns, improved surveillance, more gadgets, and conducting ever-more-realistic-school-shooter-drills is the answer. Given our quick fix mentality, we are reflexively jumping on the hardening bandwagon. Maybe we should listen to the students who are here for the long run and invest in the kinds of programs Ms. Dolan recommends.

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