Police Presence in K-12 Schools in the US

The Second Amendment in the US Constitution protects the right to keep and bear arms in the United States of America. This amendment was adopted in 1791 within the Bill of Rights. There have been heated debates over the years, regarding the boundaries to this right and whether this should indeed be a fundamental right of American citizens. The nature and stances of federal gun laws and supreme court decisions in the US regarding gun control have been diverse, but each have sought to define the second amendment unambiguously. For example, the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 restricts an unauthorised person from knowingly possessing a firearm at a place which is considered to be a school zone. Similarly, the District of Columbia v. Heller decision brought out the sentiment that the Second Amendment protects the right of law-abiding citizens to use weapons in cases of self-defence.

Police presence in schools can be termed as a reactionary measure to the gun laws in the United States. They are a subset or a sub-debate of the larger gun control debate in the United States. Gun rights have given license for people to use arms recklessly, resulting in high rates of crimes in schools. Although, the total rate of crimes in schools has been inconsistent and prone to fluctuation since the early 1990’s, they have consistently remained between 30-50% of the total K-12 schools in the country reporting incidents of school violence (“School Associated Violent Death Study”, 2018). Since, the number of crimes in K-12 schools due to gun violence have remained fairly high, the United States public have begun to voice its concerns and opinions regarding school safety. Some big incidents in recent history is also responsible for enlarging this issue in the public’s imagination. The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on December 14, 2012, in Connecticut saw the death of 20 children between 6 and 7 years old. Six staffers were also casualties of this massacre along with the shooter committing suicide himself at the crime scene. This is one of the largest school-shootings in the country’s history which therefore has brought more attention to the imminent problem of violence in schools and ultimately police presence as a solution.

The debate on police presence in K-12 schools comprises of several components which need to be carefully considered and addressed. There are polarized values within the US public regarding gun laws in the country. While some sections feel that the right to bear arms is a natural right and a vital part of US culture ever since its inception, others believe that gun rights are harbouring violence within the country. There are also contrasting values about whether police presence is really a solution to the violence in schools. This is because of further differences in opinions on matters such as cost-inefficiency of police presence and effects on young students. There is also differing perspectives on the issue of racism within the police and students from cultural minorities feeling targeted as a result of increased police presence in schools. These variegated factors are the driving forces which converts this debate from deliberative to controversial. The price of this controversy regarding police presence is the safety of students in schools. During the course of this debate, these differences in values and lack of public plurality will be taken into account, while coming up with solutions to some of these issues.

The purpose of this debate will be to deliberate potential measures in order to ultimately ensure the safety of children going to schools. At the conclusion of this debate, we seek to build a model for school safety in the United States with appropriate policing measures and security systems in place. In this debate, my partner will focus on the bullying prevention factor of police presence, while this argument will focus more on the criminal and violence dimension of police presence. To effectively achieve this purpose, this argument will be divided into three segments. Firstly, this argument will address the most common counterarguments made against police presence in schools and test the validity of these counterarguments. If they are valid and require attention, we will seek to find solutions to the problems brought up within these counterarguments. In this debate, both sides will be arguing for some kind of product and therefore, the issues brought up within counterarguments against police presence in schools need not be considered as a defeat to the model we seek to build, but rather weaknesses that require immediate attention. Secondly, this argument will be examining the results of policing carried out in the past few years and the policies enforced simultaneously such as the zero tolerance policies. Evidences will be presented to prove that while there may be some unintended negative consequences of police presence, it has indeed assisted the reduction of school-related crimes in the United States. The final segment of this argument will be to emphasise on all the important factors necessary to make the policing model for schools more comprehensive. This segment will focus on crafting solutions to issues such as increasing cost efficiency, helping students settle into a police present environment, and providing answers to the counterarguments or weaknesses brought up earlier in the argument. The three segments together will function as three separate premises which will converge to the conclusion that – While gun rights continue to be protected by the US constitution, building a macro model for police presence in K-12 schools is key to ensuring safety in schools and preventing any forms of crime.

Segment 1:

In the early 1990’s, due to an ascension in the rates of school violence, the government decided to sharply increase police presence in K-12 schools. A zero-tolerance policy was simultaneously enforced, following the Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994, leading to tight security in schools. Opponents of these measures put forth a few key counterarguments in which they highlight some key discrepancies between the goals of these measures and what they believe to be is the reality. In most debates concerning policing in K-12 schools, the three most common premises brought about by opponents are “school to prison pipeline”, racist tendencies of policing and cost inefficiencies surrounding policing.

The overall purpose of zero-tolerance policies was to instil a sense of discipline among students and equip resource officers with some power to take stern actions against the infringement of the schools’ disciplinary policies, thereby enforcing them better. However, people point out that as a consequence more students are getting suspended and expelled from schools resulting in a “school to prison pipeline” – a phrase coined to point out that zero-tolerance policies act as a pipeline, sending more students from school to prison. For example, a 10th grade football player named Bruce, from Desoto County school in Mississippi was suspended for 21 days for holding up a gun sign in his hands. It was identified as a gangster sign due to which this gesture was seen as a violation of the school’s disciplinary code. Although, the boy claimed that he was unaware that this was a gangster sign, he was nevertheless punished. Figures from March of 2011-12 calendar year indicated that about 3.5 million students were suspended from US elementary and secondary public schools and a further 130,000 were expelled (Rosen, 2014).  Therefore, the first counterargument against school policing is that – Policing and zero tolerance policies have increased the rates of suspensions and expulsions, as students are severely punished even for minor offences. This has shifted the environment of schools from educational to hostile for most students.

By definition, zero tolerance policies were meant to punish students, if certain school disciplinary codes were broken. Its primary goal was to bring discipline within schools and reduce the rate of school crimes. Federal statistics show that the rate of crimes in schools per 1000 decreased from 155 in 1993 to 102 in 1997, just three years past the enforcement of zero-tolerance policies. School faculty in Baltimore accredit zero tolerance policies with a 31% decline in school crime in the 1999-2000 school year (Koch, 2000). These numbers prove that while the rates of suspensions and expulsions have ascended, zero-tolerance policies have fulfilled their ultimate objective of controlling school crimes. These numbers also prove the efficacy and immediacy of impact of these zero-tolerance policies, with sharp declines in crime rates just a few years past its ratification. As for the long-term impacts, serious violent crimes and assaults against students ages 12 to 18 fell by about 75% in 18 years, since reaching its peak in 1993. School violence reached a 20 year low in 2010 before slightly edging up in 2011 (Rosen, 2014). There has been a constant deceleration in the rate of crimes over the last couple of decades approximately. Although, the results of zero-tolerance policies are non-negligible, the opponents’ concerns expressed within these counterarguments are valid and this potential weakness within the policing model does entail some continual improvements. Constant amendments and revisions to the zero tolerance policies are required especially while dealing with minor school policy infringements. Punishments cannot be suspension or expulsion for all mistakes and the severity of punishments needs to be moderated better. However, with these policies equipping police officers in schools with power to control crime rates, its success over the years cannot be overlooked and therefore these policies should not be removed altogether.

The second and possibly the most common counterargument provided against police presence in schools is its racist tendencies. It is very often pointed out by the public that the number of felons from minority groups such as African Americans and Hispanics, far exceeds the number of white people arrested by the police force in schools. The enrollments of white, African American and Hispanic students are 51%, 16% and 24 % respectively, however, their expulsion rates are 36%, 34% and 22% (“Civil Rights Data Collection”, 2014). Opponents highlight these clear disparities between the number of white students expelled and arrested versus the number of students from minority groups such as African Americans and Hispanics facing the same. They feel that police officers in schools target students from minorities because they believe that most number of felons come from these cultures. Opponents argue that this targeting of minority groups by the police in schools leads to higher rates of crimes, due to the effects it has on students. Therefore, the opposite goal of increasing police presence is unintentionally achieved. The second counterargument against police presence in K-12 schools is that – The disproportionality between the rates of expulsions and arrests between students who are white and students from minority groups such as African-American and Hispanic have caused an increasing tendency among these minority groups to commit school crimes, as they feel targeted by the American population. This is linked to the issue of police oppression among minority groups.

The argument against school policing based on racism fails due to two reasons. Firstly, there is no evidence which shows that the convicted students from minority groups are indeed innocent and have been falsely charged. An analogy to explain this would be the issue of terrorism. The highest number of people convicted for terrorist activities are predominantly from Islam not because the US administration is discriminatory or religiously intolerant and label all Muslim people as terrorists but because historical data and recent incidents have shown that there is a higher probability for terrorists to be from these groups. Similarly, although there may be a possibility that African American and Hispanic students are innocent and falsely charged, there is also a strong possibility that they may have committed a crime and are henceforth expelled or arrested by the police officers in schools. Normative conclusions cannot regarding racism within the police, cannot be reached without linking the rates of arrests among minority people to the number false charges. Secondly, if there are evidences which link racism to bad policing in schools, it does not qualify as a valid argument to stop police presence in schools. Surveys point out that as of 2017, 59% of African Americans and 43% of Hispanic people feel like strangers in America. Furthermore, 30% of American citizens believe that a person’s racial or ethnic background plays a vast role in determining success in the United States (Demby, 2017). Translated into words, this means that racism as a civil issue is prevalent in the United States as a whole and not just within the police force. It is deep-rooted at various levels, ranging from white-collar to blue-collar jobs, from both liberal states to conservative states and at different public spheres. It is therefore impractical to oppose any of the aforementioned policies due to racial discrepancies. Tackling racism as a whole is the required objective to solve these problems. Due to the two reasons mentioned above, the racism argument against police presence in schools does not qualify as a practical counterargument.

The third main counterargument is the cost inefficiencies of creating a police presence in schools. Educational experts feel that police presence and security systems drain out too much money from both the state governments and schools itself. They feel that the money spent on this could rather be invested into students and staff while looking for more creative solutions to the problem of school violence. Following the shooting incident at Sandy Hook elementary school, the school board has spent 4.5 million USD to ramp up its security (DeNisco, 2014). A district in Philadelphia has budgeted about $30 million to recruit over 350 police officers – who have outnumbered the number of school counsellors and nurses (Murphy, 2018). The third counterargument therefore is – Creating a police presence in schools is an expensive affair and the opportunity costs that schools and the state administration face are sizable. Therefore, it is important to find more efficient means of ensuring students’ safety in schools and eventually move away from police presence. (This counterargument is a legitimate concern and will be addressed in the third segment of the paper)

Segment 2:

While attempting to build a model for police protection in schools by addressing all the potential weaknesses put forth in the counterarguments, it is important to answer one question: How effective has police presence been to reduce school crimes and protect schools from other threats like drugs and bullying? This segment seeks to build a case on the reasons as to why police presence in schools is necessary and effective.

School policing has been of frequent occurrence since the early 1990’s. A 2001 study by the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO), showed that 90% of the officers prevented between 1-25 acts of school crime in an average school year, 24 percent of officers reported taking a loaded firearm from a student or another person on campus, and 87 percent confiscated knives or other weapons with blades (“School resource Officers seeing results”). These numbers show the effect of policing in schools during its early years of implementation. A more recent study conducted by the “Journal of Police Crisis Negotiations” indicated that, the number of security guards were positively correlated to the rates of school violence (5% increase in crimes per 100 security guards). However, the number of School Resource Officers (SROs) present in schools had a significant negative correlation with the number of school crimes (13.9% decrease in crimes per 100 SROs) (Jennings, Khey, Maskaly, & Donner, 2011). This provides evidence to the fact that the introduction of armed police officers in schools has contributed to the reduction of violence in schools. As the rates of school crimes are decreasing with respect to a subsequent increase in the US population every year, police presence in K-12 schools is the most effective way to control school crimes and violence as long as gun rights are part of the constitution.

Apart from preventing school violence and crimes, SROs provide several other benefits which includes counselling for students, mentoring students about school safety, and building relationships to provide a parental presence in school yet a friend at the same time. A daily presence on campus allows students to see a different side of the police. For example in the San Diego unified school district, officers helped organize student activities, participated in school-sponsored events and donated their own time to put together bikes and serve dinners to disadvantaged families (Littlejohn, 2016). Through this, students develop a stronger appreciation for police officers and their role on campus. The San Diego Police Department provides specialized training to school officers in order to prevent problems like targeted enforcement on students and school-to-prison pipeline (Littlejohn, 2016). Unfortunately, this training period for SROs is not conducted in all places across the US resulting in some cases of police oppression.

It can be therefore concluded that, there are certain areas of improvement while enforcing policing in schools but historical data, anecdotes and evidences shows us that on a macro scale, police presence produces positive results for crime prevention, controlling gun violence, and providing students with a guiding presence in schools.

Segment 3:

During the course of this paper we have identified problems relating to police presence in schools and evaluated the success of policing in schools over the years. The notion that the first two segments attempts to convey is that, As long as gun rights continue to exist in the US, police presence is an important measure that needs to be better enforced in order to make schools safer. Police brutality, cost inefficiencies, school-to-prison pipelines are some issues that do not occur on a scale large enough to undermine the entire concept of police presence in schools. They are institutional issues that need to be resolved through training programs, and bounding norms for police officers. The results of police presence in bringing down crime rates is irrefutable, and apart from school safety, these officers also provide numerous benefits to students and teachers.

The final segment will present a model to improve police presence in K-12 schools in the US. The following model can be phrased as – DOCTOR to improve health of policing in American Schools.

Diversity in police force (D):

Cases of police brutality in schools are often linked to the issue of racial disparities between white students in the US and students from minority groups. The number of cases where students from minority groups get tased or assaulted by a police official ­– although is a small percentage, compared to the broader scenario of policing in the country – is higher than the rates of white students facing the same. The causes of these few cases of police brutality are cultural intolerance and racial profiling by police officers, misuse of power to punish people on the basis of perceived threats rather than actual threats, and the strict enforcement of zero-tolerance policies. As several of these cases of police oppression are tied with racial differences in the US, a simple measure that could be taken to address this problem is creating a more diverse police force comprising of officers from all races such as white, African-American, Hispanic and Asian. Officers from minority groups can function as neutralizing forces within the police fraternity in cases of police brutality, as they will be more empathetic to their own cultural groups.

Orientation for students to transition into better police environments (O):

Another factor that opponents point out in this debate is the impact of police presence on young students. The psychological effects of policing in schools is most commonly referred to in arguments against police presence in schools. Fear, dysphoria, and stress are some common emotions of students associated with police presence. Assisting the smooth transition into a police-present environment, for students, is essential in order to reap the benefits of policing in schools. Regular orientations between students and SROs should be conducted so that SROs can educate students about the rules and guidelines of the school, school safety, simple expectations of students and goal-setting to foster a productive time in school. These sessions can bridge communication gaps between SROs and students, increase comfort levels between them and may even lead to fewer cases of crimes as more students are getting mentored by police officers regularly.

Cooperation between community, state government and schools (C):

Perhaps the biggest issue pertaining to police presence in schools is the issue of funding this entire process. Recurring costs include the cost of paying police officers, and investing in the installation of security systems in schools. The common scepticism surrounding the funding of policing is the opportunity costs that schools have to forego in order to avail policing. The safety of students need to be the priority of every school and therefore these investments are non-negligible. However, some steps that can be taken to reduce the burden of policing on schools is to divide costs between community, schools and local government bodies. The cost of paying wages to SROs and training them can be shared by all three parties. Communities can assist their local schools by simple fundraising ideas such as crowdfunding and small contributions from all parties can bring down burden on schools drastically. A system for funding schools is not ubiquitous in the US still, which is why cost-inefficiencies are increasing burden on schools and the government.

Training for SROs (T):

Police brutality, dysphoria among students, misuse of power granted by zero-tolerance policies, racial profiling are all examples of weaknesses to policing in schools. Also, even though crime rates and rates of violent deaths have decreased over the years, the roles of police officers in schools have expanded during this time. While axing crimes is the main job of police officers, their roles as resources to students – hence the name school resource officers (SROs) – is key for this model to work. In order to address potential weaknesses and develop police officers into resource officers, training for police officers is vital. These trainings can teach them about communicating with students, managing different types of situations in schools, handling conflicts where race is involved and enforcing zero-tolerance policies appropriately. The unintended consequences of police presence in schools can be reduced, by training police officers as human resources rather than just modes of security. Trainings can make SROs more susceptible to managing the psychological aspects associated with school policing. The concept of training is similar to the concept of education, it increases the productivity of its respective students.

Optimizing security systems (O):

There have been several cases in schools where metal detectors have not detected the presence of weapons among students or other faculty members. Optimizing security systems refers to utilizing available resources completely, to avoid situations such as these. Safety in schools cannot be solely dependent on policemen but rather security infrastructures such as cameras and metal detectors need to be optimized to control the risk of crimes. The best way to achieve this is though efficiency while using resources and refraining from blind investments in cheap infrastructure which masks the deficiencies in security for students. These deficiencies can have a detrimental impact on schools as it makes them more prone to shootings and other crimes.

Reformation of zero tolerance policies (R):

The final piece of this model is reforming zero-tolerance policies especially in situations of minor mistakes by students. As mentioned earlier in this paper, a kid was suspended for holding up a gangster sign when he was unaware of this fact himself. Suspension and expulsion rates can be controlled if punishments under zero-tolerance policies are amended depending on the severity of mistakes. Tight policies for cases such as drugs, violence and bullying can be justified, however, it is in the cases of minor offences that there is a need for reform. The onus of this falls on the government and this is an issue that entails immediate action.

These six measures together forms our DOCTOR model for police presence in K-12 schools. Together, they address all the different weaknesses highlighted by opponents and adds improvements to the existing scenario of policing in schools.





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