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 aggree with all different types of parents and teachers debates on ways that this matter should be carried out or held. Though I would be horrified if there were police officers in my daughters middle school must less my sons elementary and while I do agree that in some schools it is very nessasary if not should be mandatory, because sadly it is nessasary in some lower income/ lower class neighborhoods because that is where we find higher rates of violence, gangs and the use of weapons. I am not saying that these things are just a problem in low-income neighborhoods or that these issues cannot be helped that make it necessary for police officers to carry guns (such as classes on gang violence and and other such things) in school settings but I don't think schools helping these issues that need to be helped will make that much of a difference to where they won't need police officers in schools or won't need them to carry some type of weapon. I am against the police officers carrying guns in most school districts, but I think it depends on the area and I think that they could carry tasers (that don't look like guns solving the issue spoke about earlier saying that some students feel like they're always suspects) even thinking about only using beanbag guns, or rubber bullets. Which they do not carry on them but have in a safe place locked up somewhere in the school to where they have quick access in a few different locations, but they should only have to carry tasers (tasers that do not look like guns) but I see no reason to have a lethal weapon when rubber bullets and beanbag guns are just as effective and they could be locked up where children cannot see them instead of using things that are lethal to children. Again, I strongly believe that there is no need for an officer in a school setting to be carrying a lethal weapon unless it is shown to be very much necessary. Like I have expressed if they must carry something, if there is a need for a police officer in a school at all there are various other safer ways my name!

Anonymous

I just wrote the comment, I would also like to add that I don't think that this should be any type of racial profiling at all I think it depends on the neighborhood not people's races or beliefs

Anonymous

Why would a student feel like a suspect? Do you feel like a suspect if you spot an officer buying coffee in a convenience store? How about when they are patrolling the street? A firearm is a tool of the trade for an officer and students, like the rest of the world, should be made to understand that fact.

I also think having an armed officer is a deterrent to a person looking to attack a school. Anyone contemplating such an attack will undoubtedly take such a fact into consideration. These people are looking for soft targets, not to get into a shoot out. After all, there is a reason why gun stores are rarely robbed.

DJ

As a person who dearly loved any learning environment, I am appalled at this discussion. Our entire problem stems from the fact that our wealthy kids and poor children live completely different lives. How about we provide attractive fencing around schools? That way we could accurately control who gets in and out. Put an armed guard at that gate. When anyone of any age approaches a place of learning they should feel safe. Fear is not a healthy precursor to learning.

Please notice that I do not advocate for the repeal of the 2nd amendment. While I do not own a gun I have shot one. Guns will be with us just like death and taxes. I suggest we return to a more traditional environment inside the school building. Bring back counselors, nurses, art classes, shop, and so on. The really sad thing is that wealthy children don't have to be concerned about this kind of thing.

Anonymous

Someone needs to tell these FOOLS that only a GOOD person with a gun stops a BAD person with one. They are willing to sacrifice children lives while the police are on the way. I want a trained person with a gun IN my kids school, they may save their lives. Harold Jordan is a IDIOT.

Mike

anonymous: What a long winded piece of poop you are.Harold Jordan is AN idiot? NO! YOU ARE!

Jimmy

Wow. The ACLU calling for disarming school officers. And what will happen when the killer shows up at a school and guns down our children? This shows you how out of touch with reality the ACLU truly is - and how little they care for our children. They are not school security - they are police officers. Armed officers does not send a negative message to the kids. Such articles should be researched before publication.

Ben Ocel

Having an armed officer stationed in schools has neither prevented nor stopped “active shooter” incidents.
https://www.policeone.com/juvenile-crime/articles/230160006-Fla-officer-stops-potential-mass-school-shooting/
"A school resource officer at Coral Springs High School tracked down a former student who entered the building armed and handcuffed him."
http://www.theblaze.com/news/2013/01/31/armed-guard-stops-school-shooter-after-he-opened-fire-at-atlanta-middle-school/
Armed Guard Stops School Shooter After He Opened Fire at Atlanta Middle School.
http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/28/us/ohio-state-university-active-shooter/
Ohio university attack stopped by armed school security.
You are lying trying to push a agenda that separates racial groups and creates a more divided country.

Teacher

The police in schools are not there to threaten they are in our schools to save our children should they be needed. God forbid, there is a shooter at a school, when the rest of us are running and hiding they will be running towards the assailants to do their jobs. That gun on their hips reassures me of my safety, it does not make me (or my students) feel threatened. Yes the local police have been trained to deal with school shootings but it will take them at least 5 minutes to get to our school. I hesitate to think what could happen in those 5 minutes.

Anonymous

Amazing answer and you are completely correct.

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