More than 17,000 police officers patrol school hallways nationwide, a big increase from 10 years ago, says the New York Times in an editorial. Police have made many schools safer, but there is growing concern that the larger number of police officers, plus zero-tolerance policies at many schools, has led to unnecessary arrests. Most involve fighting, disrupting a classroom or a similar disturbance that in the past might have led to a trip to the principal's office or suspension. Often the arrested students suffer from learning disabilities or mental health problems that, if addressed, could alleviate the behavior that got them in trouble.
American Civil Liberties Union in Connecticut found that in West Hartford and East Hartford, minorities were far more likely to be arrested than white students who committed the same infraction. While most police officers know how to handle adults, dealing with children and teenagers requires special diplomatic and communications skills. Specialists in child development and juvenile justice need to develop standards, and local police departments need to develop training programs, says the Times, which concludes that “Arrests should always be a last resort and not a crutch for frazzled schoolteachers or administrators who bear the primary responsibility for maintaining school discipline.”