Education Under Arrest

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Justice Policy Institute

The number of school resource officers in schools rose 38 percent between 1997 and 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. But a report released this week by JPI said the influx of officers has referred students over to the juvenile system more than it has actually lowered crime on school grounds, and recommends that education systems “remove all law enforcement officers from schools.”

Student-reported incidences of violence or theft have plummeted from 155 per 1,000 students in 1993 to 47 per 1,000 in 2008, but the “presence of law enforcement in schools has no clear relationship to this drop in reported rates,” the report said.

At the same time, JPI argues, “arrests and referrals of students to the juvenile justice system by SROs are increasing,” suggesting that referrals to the court are made for minor transgressions that schools used to handle on campus.

The practice of placing officers in schools took off in the 1990s, when incidents such as the Columbine High School shooting prompted a reliance on “zero tolerance” policies about weapons in schools. The federal government used the Community Oriented Policing Services in Schools Program to subsidize the hiring of such officers, and the number of SROs jumped from 9,446 in 1997 to a peak of 14,337 in 2003.

In an average week, SRO’s spent 20 hours of their time enforcing law, 10 hours advising or mentoring students and five hours teaching, according to the national assessment of SROs done by the National Institute of Jusice in 2005.

The multiple roles carry the potential to cause confusion among students in the school, according to the JPI report, because a student may think he or she is discussing problems with a mentor and be disclosing information to a police officer that could be later held against her.

Click here to read the JPI report.