Before we add a second officer, we need to know if SRO program works

Greenwich-Voices-GoldrickFive years ago, then Superintendent Larry Leverett placed an armed police officer, referred to as a school resource officer (SRO), in Greenwich High School with the objective of “improving the relationship between town youth and the police.”

Today, Superintendent William McKersie wants a second officer there, with responsibilities for the middle schools as well, to augment what is already the state’s largest force of school security guards. Do police officers belong in schools in a town with one of the lowest crime rates in the nation? Do middle school students require a police presence? Is Dr. McKersie following the NRA’s prescription for armed police officers in every school? Has the SRO program actually been “successful”?

While the Police Department claims the town’s SRO program has been a success, there are no objective measures of proof, and data on suspensions and expulsions from Greenwich Public Schools reveal disturbing trends. According to a December report, the number of special education students suspended and expelled has risen sharply over the past three years. They now comprise nearly half of all students subjected to such discipline.

Further, African-American and Hispanic students are substantially overrepresented among those disciplined, representing more than twice their weighting in the general student population. And students suspended for drug- or alcohol-related violations have quadrupled in just three years to more than 150 students last year.

Researchers note troubling changes when police are posted in schools. University of Delaware Professor Aaron Kupchik cautioned, “The evidence shows that the expansion of police into schools is a flawed policy that can have harmful effects on students.” Their presence can “transform the school from an environment of academia to a site of criminal law enforcement. Issues that might otherwise be seen as mental health or social problems can become policing matters once an officer is stationed in a school. Arrests for minor infractions, such as fistfights in which there are no injuries, go up.”

A 2011 study in the Journal of Police Crisis Negotiations concluded, “Schools with security guards and guards who bear firearms have higher rates of serious violent crime than do similar schools that lack such personnel.”

Professor Randall Beger noted, “Police officers spend more time as school disciplinarians and dedicate less time to ensuring the safety of students and the community … spending valuable time on minor or even trivial offenses,” diminishing rather than enhancing public safety. Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of the Advancement Project, asserted, “More police means more criminalization of adolescent behavior. When police are in schools, they become the school disciplinarians.”

The reaction against the NRA’s proposal was swift and pointed. Sen. Blumenthal said the NRA “can’t be a credible and constructive participant in this debate if it says the only acceptable solution is armed guards in schools.” Dennis Van Roekel of the NEA and Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers also objected: “Guns have no place in our schools. Period. Greater access to mental health services, bullying prevention, and meaningful action on gun control — this is where we need to focus our efforts.”

Abby Anderson, executive director of the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, very strongly advocates for any funds added to school budgets in response to Sandy Hook regarding personnel be spent on school social workers and counselors rather than police. The Sandy Hook Advisory Commission on School Safety declined to recommend placing police officers in schools.

Before placing more officers with guns and Tasers in our public schools, we should first ask why the relationship between town youth and the police has been poor? We should engage young people and their parents, and get to the root causes. That step is long overdue.

 

Sean Goldrick is a Democratic member of the Board of Estimate and Taxation, though the opinions expressed in this column are his own. He may be reached at [email protected] 

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