The Dignity in Schools campaign, a coalition of groups from 27 states, including Texas, is pushing for the removal of campus police officers, saying that it leads to harsh school discipline and youth criminalization.
“Officially we’re coming out as a large body of folks from around the country and collectively saying we want to see cops out of school,” said the group’s communications coordinator Nancy Treviño.
Excluding juvenile justice facilities, reports show that in 1997 only 10 percent of schools had officers on site. During the 2013-2014 school year, however, 24 percent of elementary schools and 42 percent of high schools had some form of outside law enforcement on campus.
Some critics argue that heavy-handed disciplinary action in schools (i.e. school-based arrests) directly lead to the “school-to-prison pipeline.” The pipeline theory stems from the idea that introducing students – whose infractions should be handled administratively – to the criminal justice system early on substantially increases the likelihood of criminal activity in the future.
This theory is reinforced by a 2015 study from the University of Florida Levin College of Law, which found that simply having officers on campus increases the probability that a student will be disciplined by law enforcement for minor misbehavior.
Last year’s incident at Rhodes Middle School in San Antonio is a glaring example. A potential fight among sixth grade girls quickly escalated into an adult male police officer slamming a middle school student, Janissa Valdez, into the ground causing her to lose consciousness.
Conversely, we are living in a time where school shootings, attempted kidnappings from elementary school campuses, and injury-inflicting gang fights are sadly not uncommon. The risks seem far too high to suggest that completely removing campus police officers is the “safe” alternative.
The question isn’t whether or not schools should have police officers on site, rather, it is what the role of those on site officers should be.
Cops acting as counselors isn’t beneficial for any party involved. The scope of on site officers should be strictly limited to protecting schools, administrators, and students from threats of violence, while leaving disciplinary actions for minor infractions to school administrators.