Schools patrolled by cops see a surge in criminal charges against students for behavior that used to be handled in the principal’s office, and police presence does not make students safer, some youth advocates and legal professionals say.
Thousands of districts across the United States have paid local police departments to provide armed “school resource officers” to high schools, middle schools and sometimes elementary schools. Hundreds of other districts, including those in Houston, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, have created police forces of their own.
Last week the National Rifle Association confirmed its support for placing cops or other armed guards on campuses. The White House has proposed a similar policy. As criminologist Denise C. Gottfredson says below, however, there is no evidence that the presence of police improves school safety.
The effectiveness of using police officers in schools to deter crime or the remote threat of armed intruders is unclear. The new N.R.A. report cites the example of a Mississippi assistant principal who in 1997 got a gun from his truck and disarmed a student who had killed two classmates, and another in California in which a school resource officer in 2001 wounded and arrested a student who had opened fire with a shotgun.
Yet the most striking impact of school police officers so far, critics say, has been a surge in arrests or misdemeanor charges for essentially nonviolent behavior — including scuffles, truancy and cursing at teachers — that sends children into the criminal courts.
“There is no evidence that placing officers in the schools improves safety,” said Denise C. Gottfredson, a criminologist at the University of Maryland who is an expert in school violence. “And it increases the number of minor behavior problems that are referred to the police, pushing kids into the criminal system.”