The video of a South Carolina school resource officer slamming a high school student’s desk to the ground with her still in it and tossing her across the room has prompted a heated debate that illustrates how policing in schools could either improve or further erode relations between communities and law enforcement, says the Christian Science Monitor. “You're either going to come with me, or I'm going to make you,” says the officer, Richland County Sheriff's Deputy Ben Fields, who was fired today by Sheriff Leon Lott. As the number of school resource officers (SROs) in schools increases dramatically, the results have been decidedly mixed. Some research shows that an increased police presence in schools leads to more offenses of all types, whether serious or frivolous, being referred to law enforcement, resulting in police inappropriately replacing teachers as disciplinarians.
Police officers in schools can give parents peace of mind and improve young people’s perceptions of law enforcement, which is particularly important given the current lack of public confidence in police, some experts say. The South Carolina incident may represent a worst-case scenario. Whether or not Fields was legally justified in his actions, “One terrible incident like this can really undo a huge amount of investment in promoting good relationships,” says Emily Owens, an associate professor of criminology at the University of Pennsylvania. SROs have become widespread. In 1975, 1 percent of U.S. schools had SROs. By 1997, that figure had increased to 22 percent, and in 2007, the last year for which data are available, the figure was 40 percent.