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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Anonymous

I would say the same thing to you that I just said to Shouse! I totally agree with you, but there are some people that can only afford to put their children and in horrible schools with a lot of violence! Thank God that my children don't have to go to a school anything like that! I would be horrified if my children needed any kind of police officer in their schools, but unfortunately there are schools out there that kids are scared to go to school without somebody there to protect them from the violence in some neighborhoods, like at least a security guard. I also think it it is horribly wrong that some people are using this as a racial issue I think there are violence in schools regardless of race or beliefs!

Anonymous

Yes, armed officers can prevent further carnage during an "active shooter" event, but is it worth having these arrogant and authoritarian "cops" on campus for any other reason. NO!!

Tricia

I support ACLU with almost every position. However, I do not agree in this case. I have taught in a high school. We had 1 SRO, 7 counselors, and 7 principals. The SRO is a policeperson, School Resource Officer, in our school. He was primarily there to protect the students. He also would bond with adolescents and help support the students with everyday issues. I had several discussions with him about this exact subject. The point he said, that had the most impact on me, was that he would always be moving towards a threat. His uniform makes him the biggest target in the building. He honestly said, "I'd rather be the target over any of you [students and faculty]." This is true dedication and I would hate for his bravery to protect us to be diabled because he doesn't have a weapon to protect himself or in other schools,
I'm glad there is an SRO helping protect my children. So far he has removed a group of kids from a different district from harming a student in our school. There was no gun pulled, but I think it was reasonable to have. He also calmed both of my kids when there was a threat of a gun in the school (proven a rumor). He was the only person they believed even over me. I am grateful he is there and thank him and all SRO's for their service.

Anonymous

And Tricia you were extremely lucky (CRAZY LUCKY) to have had an SRO that was like that! Because alot of the SRO's, actually all of them that I have seen in schools or heard about in schools try to get into the students business about what they are doing in school out of school or if they're doing their work when they should just be doing their job which is protecting the children not getting in their business! The teachers and counselors should be doing that!

Khalil Spencer

So does the ACLU know more about school security than the teachers themselves, or is this simply another knee jerk response from the left? My fear is it is the former. If Mr. Jordan wants us to take him seriously, he should provide some data to back up his assertions.

If the school security personnel are supposed to run towards trouble, including when shots are fired, they need to be able to defend themselves and others. They will be the first responders and should not be treated like expendables.

Buckeye Libertarian

The author seems to forget the police are present in the schools only since Columbine and are to "protect and serve".

The statement that "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." is probably right, but if there is an armed officer present comment sense suggests the incident is more likely to be a less deadly one than if the school has to wait even five minutes for the local police to appear. The officer is not there to "prevent or stop" but to lessen the damage.

ACLU has, once again, found it's head in it's ass.

Mike

Buckeye : AGREE TOTALLY!

Jason Mitchell

In fact, there was a law enforcement officer assigned to Columbine. I think it was a sheriff's deputy.

The Harris and Klebold were really intended a massive bombing of the school. The deputy at the school engaged them in a gun fight until he expended his ammunition. Still, it did seem to interrupt their efforts of setting up all of the IEDs that they had. That deputy probably did save lives.

Anonymous

This is idiotic and flies in the face of everything we've learned since Columbine. The example you use of Columbine is invalid, because at the time the policy of police departments everywhere was for the officer on the scene to wait for backup and a tactical team and allow them to handle it as if it were a hostage situation. The officer on the scene, once the shooters run inside, followed that procedure, which is why he wast much help. But after Columbine and Virginia Tech, we learned that this strategy only serves to increase casualties by giving the shooter(s) more time to kill. What we've learned is that the faster an armed response can be initiated, the more lives can be saved. Now police don't wait, but immediately attempt to engage and neutralize the shooter(s). And the fastest way to accomplish this (and hence save the most lives) is to have armed personnel on the scene already, not merely someone who can call them from a distant location. No, schools are not 'security zones or criminal justice institutions', but how does that remotely make them different from the surrounding public areas in which all other police are armed? The vast majority of those other public areas aren't 'security zones or criminal justice institutions' either, but we don't disarm the police there because an unarmed police officer is just a person with a radio, no different or better equipped to take on an armed threat than anyone else. A badge and an uniform don't give you super powers, and no amount of training or physical conditioning makes an unarmed person the equal of one who is armed. That's just Hollywood BS.

DougTheCanuck

A sidearm is part of a police officer's uniform, just as a pair of handcuffs, a whistle or a hat.

The presence of a sidearm is not a danger to anyone if properly handled.

Suggesting removing the sidearm sends a negative message about firearms. They are not to be feared in the hands of a responsible firearms owner. The gun itself is not inherently dangerous, it's only when handled carelessly that a gun can prove to be a problem.

The only defense against a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

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