Justice and Due Process

What did John Oliver get right about police officers in schools?

The topic of placing student resource officers in schools has been receiving increasing attention as it is often pointed to as a solution after school shootings. This topic was even featured on a recent episode of John Oliver’s hit show, Last Week Tonight, in which the comic correctly berated the practice.

Before jumping into why this practice is not beneficial, it is important to note that most individuals arguing for school resource officers are not arguing in bad faith. They are simply concerned and scared parents who want their children not to be victims of senseless violence when receiving an education.

However, just because these arguments are not made in bad faith does not mean they’re correct. In fact, the argument for school resource officers is an extremely misguided one, primarily because they are completely ineffective at stopping school shootings. This claim is backed up by a 2019 study that reported in 179 school shootings over nineteen years, there was no evidence that school resource officers lessened the severity of school shootings.

In addition to being ineffective at reducing school shootings, student resource officers consistently abuse their powers and engage in discriminatory practices. These outcomes can make school an ever increasingly hostile and scary place for many students.

From 2017-2019, school resource officers arrested more than 54,000 students. When looking through what these students were arrested for, the absurdity of many charges becomes clear. Included in those arrests were charges of assault that stemmed from a student throwing a paper airplane, a drug possession charge for carrying a maple leaf, and a battery charge when a five-year-old with ADHD accidentally struck one of these officers who did not have a compassionate response.

When looking at the demographic makeup of arrested students, prejudiced and biased underpinnings of school resource officers are revealed. Specifically, black students make up 31.6% of all arrested students. This number is twice their share of total enrollment. 

Not only is placing school resource officers ineffective and potentially harmful, it is also costly. In the six years after the Columbine shooting, the federal government spent more than 750 million on hiring over 6,500 school resource officers.

Actions like this and America’s propensity for putting police officers in schools have resulted in 58% of American schools reporting they have a law enforcement officer on campus at least once a week. This statistic leaves 14 million students in closer proximity to police officers than nurses, counselors, psychologists, or social workers. 

Clearly, America’s propensity for over-policing has come at the expense of mental health resources which can deter students from violent acts. 

As John Oliver put it, “Kids deserve to be annoying without being arrested, to be sad and angry without being body slammed. They deserve to have tantrums, throw carrots, do science experiments, talk s*** and carve their names into stuff without risking ending up in the back of a police car. They deserve to be curious, to make mistakes, to go a little too far, to be a little too loud – to basically be a f****** kid. And they definitely deserve better than the fundamental lie that the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy who can arrest a five-year-old.”