• Monique W. Morris
• Rebecca Epstein
• Aishatu Yusuf
Published: Sept. 11, 2017
“Schools across the country increasingly rely on school-based police officers. Although no exact figures exist, SROs are estimated to number more than 19,000, up from approximately 100 in the 1970s. Although the purpose of these officers is to maintain safety and address criminal acts, an important unintended consequence is greater arrest rates and referrals in schools who retain them, with especially harsh results for girls of color.
Statistics reveal that girls of color are arrested and referred to police at school in disproportionate numbers. Black girls are 2.6 times as likely to be referred to law enforcement on campus as white girls, and black girls are almost 4 times as likely to get arrested at school. Disparities affecting Latinas are especially severe in elementary school where they are 2.7 more likely to be arrested than young white girls.
The report finds that only 21 states require SROs to receive youth-specific training for SROs, and, in particular, that SROs receive few, if any, training or resources that are focused on girls of color. Meanwhile, SROs have wide discretion in carrying out their duties, and the line between criminal law and disciplinary codes have become blurred. The new report finds that only 19 states require formal agreements between school departments and police departments that could provide key clarity regarding roles.
Report key findings include:
• SROs described their most important function as ensuring safety and responding to criminal behavior, yet they report that educators routinely ask them to respond to disciplinary matters.
• SROs do not receive regular training or other supports specific to interactions with girls of color.
• SROs attempt to modify the behavior and appearance of girls of color to conform with mainstream cultural norms, urging them to act more “ladylike.”
• Girls of color primarily define the role of SROs as maintaining school safety. They define their sense of safety as being built on communication and positive, respectful relationships with SROs.
• African-American girls, in particular, identify racial bias as a factor in SROs’ decision-making process. African-American girls perceive that their racial identity negatively affects how SROs respond to them on campus.
Based on these findings, and with an eye to advancing action, the report presents guiding principles and policy recommendations that are designed to improve interactions between girls of color and SROs, with the ultimate goal of reducing these girls’ disproportionate rates of contact with the juvenile justice system.
Key recommendations for school districts and police departments include:
• Clearly delineate law enforcement roles and responsibilities in formal agreements.
• Collect and review data that can be disaggregated by race and gender.
• Implement non-punitive, trauma-informed responses to girls of color.
• Offer specialized training to officers and educators on race and gender issues and children’s mental health.”