by Chuck Sharman
An academic working paper released in mid-October 2021 found that police officers employed in public schools—typically known as School Resource Officers (“SROs”)—have zero success in reducing the number of school shootings. Still, they do cause an increase in suspensions and expulsions.
The paper, published by the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, was written by researchers at the University at Albany, the State University of New York, and the RAND Corp., using federal Department of Education data collected nationwide from 2014 to 2018.
The researchers found that SROs “do effectively reduce some forms of violence in schools.” Still, they also found no evidence that SROs reduce or prevent shootings and, in fact, “intensify the use of suspensions, expulsions, police referrals, and arrests of students.”
Those increases, moreover, were more than twice as significant for Black students as white students.
Reducing fights and assaults at the expense of increased disciplinary measures—including police referrals—SROs also increase the incidence of chronic absenteeism, the study found, an effect noticed more often in students suffering disabilities.
Florida provides evidence supporting the researchers’ point. After the state mandated an SRO for every public school for the school year that began in the fall of 2018—a reaction to a deadly shooting at a South Florida high school earlier that same year—the number of student arrests reversed a years-long decline and started to rise again.
That’s because just having an SRO “predicted greater numbers of behavioral incidents being reported to law enforcement, particularly for less severe infractions and among middle schoolers,” the study concluded.
Florida reported a 12 percent drop statewide in the number of juvenile arrests, even as the number of school arrests jumped 8 percent after its SRO mandate went into effect. During the 2018-19 school year, 345 elementary school children were arrested in the state and the overall number of times that a student was physically restrained quadrupled.
Viral videos have shown an SRO in Orlando arresting a six-year-old girl in 2020, a Chicago cop tasering a 16-year-old girl in 2019, an Arkansas SRO putting a student in a chokehold, another in North Carolina body-slamming a middle schooler, and still another in Florida body-slamming a 15-year-old girl—who was a student at a special needs school.
As a result, legislators in Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, New York, and North Carolina have introduced bills to restrict the restraint and arrest of small children. Mississippi passed a law in March 2021 that raised the minimum age of arrest from 10 to 12. But 28 states have no such minimum age and many that do set it very low: age 6 in North Carolina and age 7 in New York. The youngest person arrested during the 2019-20 fiscal year was a five-year-old boy in Florida. He was charged with felony vandalism.
“The results of this study present a difficult set of tradeoffs,” the researchers admitted. “Although our study does not perform a cost-benefit analysis, we encourage districts to consider these effects of SROs in comparison to other potential investments to prevent violence in schools, including restorative practices.”
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