Academics and activists hope the results of ongoing federally funded research on school police, school climate, and student safety will help inform both policy changes and the broader public debate over the role of law enforcement in schools, Education Week reports. A lack of rigorous research and statistical data on school police has made it difficult to track their effectiveness and to determine what factors affect their contributions to school climate, researchers say. While advocacy groups point to unfavorable outcomes, such as higher rates of arrest and referrals to law enforcement for black students, there is little consistent national data on factors that may account for variations between different schools.
That includes information on the various types of agreements between school districts and law enforcement agencies that provide school police. Details on the training, backgrounds, and race of school-based officers might also help explain some of the dynamics of their interactions with students. Also missing is a critical mass of large-scale studies on whether or not school police programs meet one of their core goals in many districts: reducing crime and keeping students safe from outside threats, like school shooters. More research of all kinds could inform improvements to school police programs and student discipline policies and help flag systemic issues that may lead to unnecessarily harsh discipline in some situations, said Phillip Goff of the Center for Policing Equity at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “In some ways, we’re nowhere on police in schools. We’ve just begun to understand that when you place police in schools, arrests are more likely,” he said, referring to findings disputed by some police groups, “But there are some modifiers for that.”