What Have We Learned from Posting Police in Schools?

Health & Gender Policy Brief # 126 | By: S Bhimji | August 27, 2021

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Policy Summary

While much of the interest these days has been on the Covid-19 infections, with schools about to open, another topic also of great interest is the over-policing of schools. There are some who argue that we are over-policing the schools and that instead of having more police, we may be better off having more support staff and mental health therapists on board.

It is important to understand that policing of schools first started in response to the national epidemic of violence, crime shootings, bullying, and vandalism. Policing schools is not a new endeavor; it has been going on for more than half a century. The program is funded by federal dollars.

Fifty years ago, only 1% of schools had  police officers on-site, but by 2018, approximately 58% of schools had at least one sworn law enforcement official present during the school week. All this changed with the school shootings in the 1990s; state and federal legislation stimulated the presence of more cops in schools.

Despite the increase in policing, in just the past 6 months of this year, there have been 79 shootings in US schools. The highest number of school shootings occurred in 2019 with 118 shootings. But the presence of cops in schools has not been positive; there are dozens of documented incidents over the past ten years where a security officer has pepper sprayers, tasered, or used excessive force on a student.

And in the wake of the daylight killing of George Floyd by a policeman, some school districts are wondering if there should be police officers in schools?

Policy Analysis

The few studies on whether police make schools safer show that some schools with more police tend to have higher rates of student suspension rates and arrests. But none of these studies state what the original cause of police involvement was and whether the police were the cause.

However, that is not to say the policing is completely bad for schools; two large studies did show that police make schools safer and that there are reduced rates of criminal incidents.

However, one obvious undeniable trend revealed from the studies show that policing of schools impacts African American students more than all other students. For the past 20 years, these studies show that since policing started African Americans are arrested more frequently and suspended more often from schools than other students.

Hence, some school districts have already cut their contracts with the local police department insisting that instead of police the students should be greeted with school nurses, support staff, and mental health counselors.

However, this type of thinking is not universal among all US schools. Mayors in New York City and Chicago say that law enforcement does have an important role in maintaining student safety and order. Security is still needed because the student of today is more aggressive, often carries weapons, regularly becomes violent and often fails to obey teachers.

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At the same time, surveys of schools reveal that most non-black students favor police but the same sentiments are not true among black students who are more likely to be arrested in school.

Extra policing does offer safety for the vast majority of students and staff but at the same time it also increases the risk that some students who continue to engage in harmful and disruptive behavior will formally come into contact with security staff, instead of the principal; and when this happens the outcomes sometimes are undesirable.

While the initial intention of having to police schools was considered to be a good idea, the tide has turned to the extreme. It appears that there are anti-police sentiments in some schools because of an aggressive approach towards black students.

In the end, there is no real answer to this dilemma. Some facts are undeniable. The police are not the cause of school violence and crime; most surveys indicate that they are welcome and offer safety. The other fact is that many blacks do not feel the same and their interactions with police have often been negative. One solution is to remove police from predominantly black schools.

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But the most important fact that is being missed by everyone is what is causing these students to misbehave and commit violence? The police are just playing an intermediary role and until the root causes of problematic behavior in schools are addressed, over-policing is unlikely to discontinue.

Parents need to get involved and start educating their children on appropriate behavior; if the students behave, there will not be any police involvement!!! At the same time, police should make an effort to change the negative perception that has been created and regain trust among students.

Engagement Resources​

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NPR logo

Why There’s A Push To Get Police Out Of Schools


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A better path forward for criminal justice: Reconsidering police in schools


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