Coalition Says Armed Police in Schools Wrong Answer For Stopping Gun Violence
Youth, Parents, Civil Rights, Education and Law Enforcement Organizations Voice Concern, Urge White House to Reject Initiatives Placing Armed Police in Schools
Washington, DC – In the weeks following the tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut, a number of advocates, including members of Congress and the National Rifle Association, have called for armed guards and/or police officers in public schools. As Vice President Joe Biden’s task force on gun violence develops policy recommendations in response to the attack and gun violence more generally, a coalition of youth, parents, education advocates, civil rights organizations, and law enforcement are cautioning the White House against embracing proposals to put armed guards and police in schools.
“A police presence makes us feel unsafe and unwelcome in our own schools,” said Tanisha Denard, a youth organizer with the Youth Justice Coalition, a member of the Dignity in Schools Campaign. “Police are trained to stop and prevent crime on the streets, not to mediate problems that may come up between young people in a school. When we go to school, we go there to learn, to be students, not to be treated like criminals.”
Testimonies from students, parents and educators, as well as Department of Education data, have shown time and time again, that an expanded police presence in schools together with “Zero Tolerance” discipline policies, like suspensions and expulsions, have had troubling consequences for schools and communities. Instead of creating safe and nurturing learning environments, these policies have resulted in the criminalization of youth – particularly youth of color – for minor misbehavior, like being late to school or talking back, that can be more effectively addressed by positive discipline measures like mediation, restorative justice practices and positive behavior and intervention supports (PBIS).
A wave of recent state school discipline reforms which move away from Zero Tolerance and towards more supportive services has shown growing recognition that a punitive approach towards students is ineffective and that evidence-based positive approaches promote safety while improving students’ class participation and graduation rates.
“School safety is absolutely our highest priority,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis. “It’s important to note that police in schools do not necessarily increase safety, nor do they catch early indicators of mental health needs, identify root and underlying causes of violence, or use the resources of law enforcement in an effective way,” Browne Dianis added. “Instead of addressing infrequent, serious threats to safety, police in schools often respond to minor student misbehavior by handcuffing, arresting and criminalizing the young people they were intended to protect.”
"Consider the unfortunate school shooting in California yesterday,” said Mustafa Sullivan, National Campaign Coordinator for the Alliance for Educational Justice. “What stopped the shooting was a teacher who cultivated a deep personal relationship with her students, not a gun," Sullivan said. “Rather than responding to the tragic events in California and Newtown with policies that lead to greater punishment of young people, we should carefully and thoughtfully map a plan to keep our children safe while ensuring schools remain conducive to learning,” he concluded.
Leading experts on school safety – including Advancement Project, Dignity in Schools Campaign, the Alliance for Educational Justice, NAACP Legal Defense Fund and others – oppose the “police and armed guards in schools” approach. Today, the groups released a white paper outlining the problems already experienced by stationing police and armed guards in schools, and offering alternative recommendations.
“In response to earlier school shootings such as Columbine, we have seen a massive increase in school police forces over the past decade,” said Jonathan Brice of Baltimore City Public Schools. “Though well-intentioned, this approach has actually harmed young people,” he added.
“We shouldn’t allow the tragedy of Sandy Hook to result in rushed policies that have not been shown to promote school safety,” said Damon Hewitt, Director of Education Practice Group for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Findings from the coalition’s white paper include:
• The increased police presence in schools has led to a dramatic increase in school-based student arrests, particularly for youth of color. During the 2011-2012 school year alone, the state of Florida reported 13,870 student arrests and referrals to law enforcement.
• The majority of student arrests are for discretionary offenses such as disruption, disorderly conduct, and minor school fights.
• Schools are considered the safest places for young people. Most youth victims of violent crime take place outside of school, with less than 2% of all youth homicides occurring in schools. Police must concentrate their resources on preventing and responding to crime where it is happening.
• The effects of contact with the juvenile justice system can be severe and long-lasting for young people, following them when applying for college, the military or a job.