For some parents, teachers, and students, having a police officer inside a school facility can bring a sense of relief. But for others—and as a newly released Citizens for Juvenile Justice and Strategies for Youth report has found—the mere presence of police in Massachusetts schools has been deemed “detrimental to students” because police disproportionately target Black and brown students, the Milford Daily News covered.
“The presence of police in schools has a harmful and detrimental effect on young people, particularly young people of color,” Leon Smith, the executive director of Citizens for Juvenile Justice, said.
“It leads to an increase in criminalization of low-level offenses that are better handled by school discipline and it has a detrimental impact on the overall school climate.”
For their study, researchers analyzed decades of school-related offense reports in Massachusetts, while investigating the outcomes of students who were placed in schools where School Resource Officers (SROs) were stationed.
Their key finding was that schools with police present reported 3.5 times more arrests as schools without police. However, the majority of reported crimes were for low-level school-related offenses, not for criminal acts.
Because of the police officers’ overbearing presence in schools, the researchers found that students attending school with SROs had higher mental health struggles and lower graduation rates, and fewer students progressing onto college, the report outlined.
However, simply relieving SROs of their duties is not the answer, the authors note, citing that after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, Massachusetts legislators reacted by passing the Gun Violence Reduction Act which requires all schools to “assign at least one resource officer per district.”
Yet even in a traumatic school shooter situation, the researchers found little evidence to support the notion that an armed police officer can protect students from armed threats. “In nearly 200 school shootings nationwide, police on campus successfully intervened twice,” the report cites from an analysis conducted by The Washington Post.
Racial Bias in School Policing
After looking at data from focus groups with SROs from 16 school districts across Massachusetts, the researchers found “considerable evidence” that Black and brown students were disproportionately “singled out for arrests and criminal citations” for offenses that were minor and isolated to school incidents, suggesting that they would be better handled through the school’s disciplinary channels directly instead of through local law enforcement, the report detailed.
Moreover, the researchers found this disproportionality was increased when it came to minority students with disabilities.
These racial disparities in school policing are alarming, the researchers write, mainly considering the fact that Black and Latinx students represent 27 percent of the Massachusetts student body, but they simultaneously make up 64 percent of all juvenile school arrests.
On that same note, young girls of color are 5.5 times more likely to be suspended from school, 4 times more likely to be arrested in school, and 3 times more likely to be referred to law enforcement by a school than their young white female counterparts, the authors note.
Students expressed that even the energy and climate of going to school felt different for them compared to their white friends, citing that their sense of safety did not increase by the stationing of a police officer in their school.
How could this happen?
After looking at decades of research on the outcomes of police in schools, as well as analyzing statistics and anecdotal stories unique to Massachusetts, the researchers outlined specifically how the presence of an SRO has lead to the decline in school culture and an increase in enforcement.
The researchers concluded that when an SRO is present in a school setting, there was an increase in “illegal searches and seizures, inappropriate sharing of confidential information; an emphasis on formal controls that create an environment of fear and distrust, and an increased reliance on surveillance.”
These changes led to an increase in students reporting on one another, thereby weakening the school’s sense of community, while diminishing student’s willingness to confide in school’s staff and resources when they are experiencing problems out of fear of the SRO or local law enforcement getting involved, the researchers concluded.
California’s Singing the Same Tune
Many of these new revelations coming out of Massachusetts have been already verified by California researchers as they’ve investigated the impact of SROs in their schools, finding similar results, citing “Stationing police in schools worsens the ‘school to prison pipeline’ by criminalizing student behavior that could otherwise be handled by internal school discipline.”
“Most schools can reap the benefits that police can offer by having an SRO attached to the school and ready to respond in times of need, but not stationed at the school on a regular basis,” the California study concluded.
See Also: Keep Police out of Schools: Study
Overall, parents in these communities are listening to their children’s experiences and joining together to sign petitions that call for the removal of SROs while opening a dialogue aimed at thinking of new “empathic solutions” for dealing with children who need discipline.
“No matter how many police they put in these schools, kids do not feel safer,” Worcester activist Cassandra Bensahih said in response to this study.
“When will we use the data to get the real solutions to help our black and brown kids be better or get the resources that they need?”
The full study can be accessed here.