What Police Officers Protecting High Schools Are Actually DoingS

When police officers first became a common fixture in high schools in the 1990s, school districts presumably had expectations that the law enforcement would protect students from violence. Instead, the police have found themselves mired in problems usually reserved for a constantly exasperated Vice Principal: disciplining trouble-makers, chasing after scofflaws, scolding ruffians, and tracking down truants. As a result, the number of kids sent to court has increased in school districts where police are present at schools. A criminologist at the University of Maryland and expert in school violence, Denise Gottfredson, said:

"There is no evidence that placing officers in the schools improves safety. And it increases the number of minor behavior problems that are referred to the police, pushing kids into the criminal system."

Hundreds of thousands of students are arrested or cited at school each year, with a large portion of these sent to court for minor offenses. Civil rights groups like the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund reports that black and Hispanic students and those with disabilities are disproportionally charged. Police officers in Texas schools alone write over 100,000 misdemeanor tickets each year.

At this time, many school districts are advocating for assigning police officers to schools. A recent NRA task force after the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut recommended armed officers in schools as well. But judges as well as youth advocates are protesting this strategy. While the effectiveness of having police officers in schools remains uncertain, the most clear result is a dramatic rise in criminal charges against youth for relatively minor, often-nonviolent misbehavior issues. The chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas, Wallace B. Jefferson, gave a speech to the legislature in March, saying: "We are criminalizing our children for nonviolent offenses."

Many of these charges at high schools involve truancy, swearing at teachers, and minor scuffles. These are issues that judges claim are better settled in a school disciplinary situation—not in court. But when police officers are present at a high school, they often take up the opportunity to solve these problems with legal recourse. One police officer stationed at E. L. Furr High School in Houston, Danny Avalos, who has made efforts in his school to discipline rather than arrest, says:

"Writing tickets is easy. We do it the hard way, talking with the kids and coaching them."

[The New York Times, image via Michael Jung/Shutterstock]