Thursday, February 7, 2013

Response to President Obama’s Comprehensive School Safety Program

By Tosin Oyekoya

The tragedy of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut left a great amount of pressure on policy makers. Many people were anxious to see how they would respond. Unfortunately their solution, which was announced January 16th 2013, to this issue is ineffective.  President Obama wants to place 1,000 more school resource officers and counselors in schools nationwide. This motion has caused a national debate of whether schools should have armed guards. In Alabama, they are considering arming teachers, which is unnecessary, and many schools have already installed School Resource Officers in their schools, like DuPont Tyler Middle School in Tennessee, Pender’s county’s high school and middle school located in North Carolina, and a few Maryland schools.
It is great to see that President Obama and other policy makers’ care and is putting effort into protecting children from harm, but in the long run, this plan will be fruitless. Increasing armed police presence in schools is not healthy. It will not be a productive learning environment. This failed solution, will scare the kids and cause lasting harm. There is evidence and research from the Justice Policy Institute’s report titled Education Under Arrest supporting this.  JPI provides evidence that police in schools have not been shown to make schools safer and that they negatively affect youth by putting many of them unnecessarily into the justice system and interrupting the educational process.

Another issue to President Obama’s Comprehensive School Safety Program is the amount of money being spent; not saying protection should have a maximum price. This program would give $150 million to school districts and law agencies to hire school resource officers and other professionals. Hiring one school resource officer for every school would cost $100 million more. JPI’s research 2012 addendum to its school police report, Measured Responses, shows having law enforcement in schools is not the most cost-effective way to achieve the President’s goal. The White House is proposing spending $50 million to help 8,000 schools train their teachers and staff to implement new strategies to create safer and more nurturing school climates. How it, in fact, decides to spend this, could be a good thing – with research from groups like JPI, the Advancement Project, and mental health professionals.

Yes, the incident at Sandy Hook Elementary was unfortunate, but we must remember that it is not an everyday occurrence. Children already involved in the juvenile justice system are experiencing daily crises as well as malfunctions within the system itself. The financial resources being spent could even go to hiring more teachers or building more schools. It could also go towards adding much needed services and programs in correctional facilities or enhancing education systems.

Tracy Velazquez, former executive director of JPI, talks about officers in schools in her op-ed recently published on the blog of Huffington Post columnist, Chris Weigant. She states that there is no clear correlation between police in schools and school safety. She also states that the C.O.P.S. in Schools Program - a part of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services within the U.S. Department of Justice - spent over $700 million to fund and train more than 6,100 School Resource Officers, who are sworn law enforcement officers permanently assigned to a school or school system. By 2003, the number of School Resource Officers in schools had risen over 45 percent, or 14,000 officers.But the statistics show that there has been a decline in school violence. In 2010, 14 incidents were reported per 1,000 students, even while due to budget cuts there have been significant decreases in the number of School Resource Officers and other law enforcement officers in schools, according to JPI’s “More Police-In Schools and Out-Not the Answer” research. The number of homicides in schools has also been declining. Over 98 percent of student homicides occur away from school.

Having School Resource Officers in schools will blow minor misconducts out of proportion. In the past, specifically in underfunded public schools, school personnel began to rely on School Resource Officers for routine disciplinary problems. We have principals, deans, and detention to discipline misbehaviors. Having these officers in schools, would demean their roles, taking away from their jobs.

When we put School Resource Officers in schools, we saw that there was a massive increase in the number of youth being arrested and formally processed through the justice system. According to JPI, schools with School Resource Officers had nearly five times the rate of arrests for disorderly conduct as those officers. Denver saw a 71 percent increase in school referrals to law enforcement between 2000 and 2004, while in Clayton County, Georgia referrals increased dramatically when School Resource Officers were introduced, from less than 100 per year in the 1990s to approximately 1,400 in 2004.
There has to be other efficient and less expensive strategies to improve the safety of children.  President Obama’s Comprehensive School Safety Program is not going to be effective.

Tosin Oyekoya is JPI’s communications intern.  

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