Putting more police in schools does not solve the school safety question.
Case in point, let’s look at the recent incident at Ogden High School involving a student and a school resource officer.
The student had been caught vaping at school. Although we do not know when the school resource officer became involved, it ended in a physical confrontation. In a video we see that the police officer has hold of the student and is pushing him against the school lockers.
Police Increase the Number of Student Discipline Problems
Police in schools do not lead to fewer discipline problems. The Brookings Institute found that the number of gun-related incidents has increased after the implementation of a school resource officer. Other negative effects include increased suspensions and expulsions.
Not only that, there is an increase in the number of student arrests when police are present in a school. And the logic is not difficult to follow. A student who is frequently in trouble is acting up again. The school resource officer happens to be walking by. In an effort to be helpful, the resource officer intervenes, and using his police skills, attempts to solve the student’s misbehavior.
A police officer handles a student’s misbehavior very differently than school staff.
As a school principal, I often had to work with students who were misbehaving at the school. These situations required me to use every amount of understanding that I had, relying on the relationship that I had built with the student and the parent to resolve issues. Although some of the incidents ended in suspensions, none of them ended in arrests. Physical intervention is rarely required in these incidents, although a school official may intervene if a child poses a physical danger to themselves or others.
There are many options to address school safety concerns that do not involve police. We have written about it before and here are two ideas.
- School safety coaches: These individuals are trained in de-escalation techniques and focus on relationship building and alternative forms of discipline to help students who struggle. A study of forty schools has shown that after implementation there has been a decrease in suspensions and in reported bullying.
- Positive Behavior Interventions and Support (PBIS): This is a schoolwide plan that involves a three-tiered system of supports designed to guide social and academic interventions for students. After implementation, schools see a 20 to 60 percent reduction in student discipline problems.
School resource officers seem to be a quick fix to the complex issue of school safety. But study after study shows that they have an overall negative impact on student discipline. It is time for us to move beyond the simple fix and use a more nuanced approach for such a complex and sensitive problem.