Since When Did Police Officers Replace the Principal’s Office?

Back in the day, a student who broke school rules or otherwise misbehaved would be reprimanded by a teacher or sent to the principal’s office. But today, school administrators are increasingly relying on law enforcement to keep students in line, and the results can be dire.

Take the case of Michael Davis, a five-year-old student with disabilities in the Stockton Unified School District.  A senior police officer in the school district’s police department decided to “scare him straight” after Michael acted out in his classroom, and the situation quickly spiraled out of control. When Michael got upset and could not calm down, the officer zip-tied Michael’s hands and feet and took him to a mental health facility. Michael’s family filed a lawsuit, and the police officer was finally dismissed from the department four years later, shortly after the family settled with the district for $125,000.

This incident, and many others like it, demonstrates how police officers are ineffective substitutes for counselors or other adults trained to work with young people who need guidance more than harsh discipline. Students who are treated as criminals for commonplace misbehavior are often traumatized and humiliated.  

In a newly released report, “The Right to Remain a Student,” we examined 109 school-district policies on the use of law enforcement on campuses in California and found them often conflicting and vague, giving administrators wide latitude to request police assistance. Many schools have called the police to enforce minor violations like "disruption," "disturbing the peace," vandalism, tardiness, and inappropriate use of electronic devices — hardly criminal offenses.

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In the San Bernardino Unified School District, for example, campus officers arrested around 30,000 students between 2005 and 2014, mostly for minor infractions like tagging and disobeying curfews.

We also found that these policies disproportionately target students of color and young people with disabilities, unnecessarily feeding them into the criminal justice system. Black students are three times as likely as white students to face school-related arrest. Students with disabilities are three times as likely as students without disabilities to be arrested on campus.  

When Michael got upset and could not calm down, the officer zip-tied Michael’s hands and feet and took him to a mental health facility. 

Rather than unjustly contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline, school administrators should call the police only if there is a real and immediate physical threat to student, staff, or public safety.

In 2013, the Pasadena School District developed guidelines that clarify the role of police on its campuses. Under these new rules, school staff cannot ask police officers to address incidents that involve school discipline. This progressive step has led to a significant decrease in school-based citations and arrests in Pasadena. Still, more needs to be done to ensure that district staff and police follow the rules, and that the district publicly and accurately report the data.

Similarly, school administrators should take back control of their campuses and stop relying on police officers to handle minor discipline issues, which only serves to criminalize students and push them out of school. Instead, school staff should address these issues themselves and correct student behavior with restorative justice and other more constructive practices.

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Instead of spending tax $ on hiring more police, why not hire more counselors and school social workers?
Communities are short-sighted around school issues in so many ways, and this is just one more.


How about holding parents responsible for their minor children's behavior.


this article is very biased and the reason there are police in schools is because parents don't do shit to raise their children and they turn up in school with weapons and commit crimes on school grounds. These are facts not this rhetoric your selling.


Bullshit. Documented cases tell a completely different story. Educate yourself before you open your mouth.


really provide those so-called documented cases

Paul Regnier

Police assigned to high schools can be helpful. The Fairfax County Public Schools on N VA has had a successful program, using police from the county police dept. for several years. This is a large (180,000 students) system nationally recognized for academic excellence. At first, there was some parental resistance, but quickly parents recognized that the carefully selected and trained officers added a level of comfort and security for all students. Don't let a few horrible examples blind us to the success stories.


I would be willing to bet that, for some significant proportion of students in Fairfax County, the presence of police in schools makes them feel LESS comfortable and secure. Do you have a citation for a survey that backs up your claim of universal support for their program?

So many of these programs were implemented without considering the downsides, or asking the question: what is it that we expect on-site police can contribute, that additional counselors could not?


How about a tax on legal fees to pay for the counselours.


How about the aclu use some of their money to support programs


How about we also have parents teach children how to respect authority figures regardless of differences in race, religion, or anything else!


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