With an armed and highly trained school force, Houston offers a substantially different model of school policing from Philadelphia, where leaders are pondering how to cope with widespread school violence, says the Philadelphia Inquirer. An Inquirer series, “Assault on Learning,” documented 30,000 violent incidents over a five-year period. After the series, Mayor Michael Nutter and Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey raised the possibility of putting regular city police in some schools, which are guarded by 400 unarmed school police officers, who are trained for just four weeks. Officers are not screened for drug use, and mentoring students is not part of their job description.
So far, the city has shied away from armed officers, opting this week to recommend better training and screening for school police. This approach makes Philadelphia an exception among the 10 largest U.S. cities. An Inquirer survey found that eight deploy armed police in schools, and a ninth – New York – uses fully qualified, but unarmed, officers. While its methods may at times seem harsher than in Philadelphia – Houston school-police K-9 units conduct random sweeps for weapons and drugs – statistics suggest that its professionally policed schools are markedly less violent than Philadelphia’s. Houston reported 925 assaults, or 46 per 10,000 students, compared with Philadelphia’s 2,696 assaults, or 175 per 10,000 students.