Don’t Arm School Police

This piece originally appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

There is an emerging national debate about school policing. It is not about whether school police should be armed but about how best to improve school environments and ensure student success while minimizing unnecessary student arrests. Emerging best practices aim to reduce police involvement in routine disciplinary school matters, ensure fairness in disciplinary processes, and increase the ratio of counselors and student support services to cops.

Sadly, while many communities explore how to improve school climates by building trusting relationships between adults and students, Pittsburgh debates the arming of school police.

A recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial and a resolution adopted by the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers’ executive board both put forth troubling arguments that are at odds with what we know about school policing.

The most immediate impact of arming school police would be felt by students, as school-based police spend the bulk of their time interacting with students in nonemergency situations. Having officers patrol the hallways with firearms sends a negative message to students. It makes many students feel that they are being treated like suspects. It can have an intimidating presence and can contribute to negative attitudes about police, in general.

There is no evidence that arming school officers increases overall safety or improves relationships within school communities. Having an armed officer stationed in schools has neither prevented nor stopped “active shooter” incidents. It did not at Columbine High School nor has it elsewhere. Thankfully, these tragic situations are still rare in schools.

How school-based police interact with students and the tools they carry and sometimes use have been the source of controversies. Incidents involving the use of even less lethal police tools, such as Tasers and pepper spray, have resulted in complaints, lawsuits, and injuries to students. These have been on the rise in recent years.

Pittsburgh is far from alone in not having armed officers in schools. The largest school district in the state, Philadelphia, does not permit its school police to carry firearms. Instead, the School District of Philadelphia, its police department, and the city police department have focused on instituting policies and programs designed to reduce unnecessary student arrests, which have been cut in half in recent years. And, so far, there has been no major uptick in violence in those schools.

Unarmed school staff does not mean that schools are defenseless in emergency situations. School districts have arrangements, formal or informal, with local law enforcement in which outside assistance is provided when needed in emergencies, such as when there is a bomb threat or serious injury.

Especially troubling is the editorial’s argument that school police should be armed because police in surrounding communities are.

Places of learning are not security zones or criminal justice institutions, and they should not be staffed that way.

The national conversation about school policing has begun to focus on what kind of staffing is appropriate for schools. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Education released data showing that 1.6 million public school students attend schools with full-time police officers but no counselors. Recent studies have found that the number of police exceeds the number of counselors in many districts.

Forward-thinking districts are reconsidering the kinds of support staff that work in schools, not whether they should be armed.

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Mike

anonymous:You need to go back to grade school and learn english and spelling + manners! As for the ACLU is concerned; the police are trained to protect the citizens. That means our school children. Police carry guns for a reason. Regular citizens carry guns for a reason.( One of our civil liberties). Our school children are not babies in diapers! Get rid of "NO GUN ZONES" and make our neighborhoods MORE safe.

Anonymous

Obviously a troll and those who fell for it make me laugh.

Anonymous

Wouldn't it be better to locate a police precinct across the street from a school in an entirely separate building and remove all police officers from schools? That way they are close but not inside the school.

Jason Mitchell

Depending on the jurisdiction, police precincts may not have any police in them exceot at shift change or when someone needs to catch up on paperwork. When I was a pokice officer, I was expected to be in my zone on patrol and handling calls.

Anonymous

"Having officers patrol the hallways with firearms sends a negative message to student...makes (them) feel...like suspects. It can have an intimidating presence and can contribute to negative attitudes about police..."

Or, if officers do their jobs with politeness, courtesy and respect; it could also show that it's the bad cop’s attitude and not the tool (firearm) that is the problem which must be addressed! To wit: http://nationswell.com/kindergarten-cops-charleston-s-c-hall-monitors-guns/

This however could lead to a greater acceptance of firearms as the legitimate emergency lifesaving tool that it is designed to be. But I can see how the author's (and ACLU's by extension) anti-gun biases confound this and so the focus remains on the "tool" (gun) and not the actual problem (disgusting behavior of those in authority which should and must be addressed). It's always easier to focus on an inanimate object (gun) and not the real issue - bad human intention and behavior. Thus, the disinformation/propaganda campaign against life-saving emergency tools (firearms) continues either willfully or through intentional intellectual laziness and dishonesty.

Hopolophobia is a terrible problem and frankly I'm not sure how or if we can overcome the cultural divide that it feeds. The reality is; however, that mass killings almost exclusively occur at so called "gun free zones" and it rarely ends until someone resists, and, yes; usually with a gun to end the massacre. As common sense dictates and the Dali Lama has even said, "If someone has a gun and is trying to kill you, it would be reasonable to shoot back with your own gun."

Perhaps we should be asking why we as a society apparently value property over our children's lives. That is, why are armed guards used to protect money; but yet hopolophobia leaves our kids and other "so-called gun free zones" vulnerable to predators to indiscriminately shoot victims with poor means of resistance. And yet the first thing we do is send in ARMED police to end the threat (and rightfully so). But too often they’re minutes away despite their best efforts. Someone on scene can (and has) end the carnage much faster.

Which leads us to another lie and bias is this propaganda piece, "Having an armed officer stationed in schools has neither prevented nor stopped “active shooter” incidents."

I just found multiple examples with an anonymous non-google search such as: When a 62-year-old man armed with two handguns forced his way into Sullivan Central High School in Tennessee on August 30, 2010; he was immediately engaged by cop (School Resource Officer) Carolyn Gudger who put her body between the gunman and a student and started what would turn out to be a more than a 10 minute gun-to-gun encounter. Gudger used the time to slowly move the man to a less crowded part of the school. When other officers arrived on the scene, a brief gun battle erupted ending with the gunman mortally wounded.

There are many other examples easily found for the more honest willing to look. Suffice it to say I would expect more honestly and rigor from an ALCU employee.

And then going on to cite Columbine as the example is either willful ignorance or outright propaganda again, because as a result of Columbine; policy and tactics changed from setting up a perimeter and waiting for SWAT as in Columbine, to now the FIRST ARMED officer on scene goes in to stop the murdering.

And why this artificial choice between armed defenders and counselors in schools? Our kids deserve to have both as both could contribute to safety and a better society overall if, again, we were to focus on appropriate behaviors and not inanimate objects in a hopolophobic obsession.

It’s unfortunate this kind of misinformation, once again, has me considering whether its worth renewing my ALCU membership or not. I mean, isn't it dangerous when we start picking and choosing which parts of The Constitution we're willing to stand up and defend vs attacking?

Anonymous

Guns are not designed as a life-saving tool. A defibrillator is a life-saving tool. A gun is a weapon designed to kill people very efficiently at range. There are times when weapons are necessary, but the two should never be confused, nor should people become comfortable with the use of deadly weapons.

Shouse

Well, officers DON'T do their jobs with courtesy and respect. They get ego-maniacal, demand obedience regardless of what actually happened, injure kids in school who don't want to cooperate. They don't belong there.

Shouse

Police shouldn't be in schools at all. They escalate every issue and get involved in stuff they have no business getting involved in, send kids to jail or the hospital for bullshit. They don't belong there.

Anonymous

I totally agree with you Shouse! But I do believe that at very bad neighborhoods where there is a lot of violence going on in the schools and children getting hurt and scared to go to school they should at least have a like a retired cop or security guard who should just a taser (that doesn't look like a gun) to stop unreasonable violence. But like I said I totally agree with you because it would definitely be hard to find somebody that actually wants to just help the students instead of act like that they are higher authority. I think they should hire somebody to protect the students and that is all not to get in their business about where they are or what they're doing or if they're doing their work. That is the teacher's job!

Joan

I attended public schools before they had police officers assigned to them. We had hall monitors, lunchroom ladies, and school crossing guards (we were still allowed to walk to school). I have no idea why we even have police in the schools at all. Students are not criminals and should not be treated as such. Students are children. They require nurturing, not legal regulating.

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