The violent arrest of a South Carolina high school student in class last month has brought new scrutiny to school resource officers, whose numbers have increased alongside concerns about school safety and mass shootings, reports the Washington Post. There are more than 43,000 school resource officers and other sworn police officers, and another 39,000 security guards working in the nation's 84,000 public schools, says the National Center for Education Statistics. They have been hired, often with federal dollars, in a post-Columbine age in which many communities want to do everything possible to guard against threats from drugs, gangs and weapons. Mass shootings like the Newtown, Ct., massacre, lend emotional weight to the desire for increased school security.
Having officers in classrooms and cafeterias has created its own set of concerns about the criminalization of teenage misbehavior, about the discriminatory enforcement of vague laws, and about the excessive use of physical force against children in spaces where they should be able to feel safe. After Newtown, President Barack Obama called for an investment of $150 million to put 1,000 police officers, social workers and counselors in schools. More than 64,000 students were arrested at school in 2011-2012, according to federal civil rights data, the most recent available. Thirty percent of the arrests involved black students, although blacks accounted for just 16 percent of the overall student population. Some want schools to limit police officers' law enforcement actions in school or get rid of them entirely. “The first time a lot of black and brown children experience police violence is in a school building. The first place that our children learn to fear police, learn they're controlled instead of empowered, is in a school building,” said Brittany Packnett, a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement who heads the St. Louis office of Teach For America.