ACLU: Schools Without Police are Better Schools

Report Shows that Putting Police in Schools Harms Students, Does Not Improve Safety

August 24, 2021 11:00 am

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It’s time to take police out of public schools.

Today, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundations in California and ACLU California Action release a comprehensive report showing that, despite school districts pouring millions of dollars into campus police programs, there is little to no credible evidence that they increase school safety and instead undermine school climate and criminalize students.

In fact, as detailed in the report, “No Police in Schools: A Vision for Safe and Supportive Schools in CA,” the latest available federal, state, and local data show that destructive school policing patterns — far more likely to target Black and Native American students and students with disabilities — annually “contribute to tens of thousands of California students being criminalized, pushed out of schools, and shunted into the juvenile justice system.” Numerous students quoted in the report talk about the siege mentality in schools with overbearing police presences.

It does not have to be this way. The report cites school districts that have greatly reduced or even eliminated campus police programs — for example in Oakland and Los Angeles Unified. Indeed, these actions freed up funding for programs that support Black student achievement and all students’ social and emotional well-being.

“The data reveal troubling trends endemic to racist and oppressive policing at large,” said Amir Whitaker, senior policy counsel with the ACLU Foundation of Southern California. “Officers racially profile students of color and handcuff them as young as 8 years old.”

The major presence of police in schools is a relatively recent phenomenon. In 1970, there were only about 200 school police nationwide. Now, that number is more than 40,000, even while some critical school services are underfunded or were eliminated entirely. Schools serving large numbers of students of color are, in many cases, particularly under-supported and over-policed.

“I know none of us deserve the conditioning that occurs from being policed,” said Caroline, a high school student in the Pomona Unified School District who is quoted in the report. “We are deemed a problem, we are alienated from our own communities.”

The report is the first to analyze the new California Racial and Identity Profiling Act (RIPA) data, which currently provides detailed information about police stops from the state’s 15 largest law enforcement agencies. More agencies will report data in future years.

The latest data reveals that school staff more frequently characterize behavior by Black students as being criminal, and that police impose harsher consequences on Black students during stops. For instance, despite Black students being 7.6 percent of school population, 26 percent of students stopped and 27 percent of students handcuffed. The data also show that police are called on very young children far too often; in 2019, the 15 largest law enforcement agencies alone stopped 241 children who were age 9 or younger.

The ACLU report includes several recommendations for school districts, including:

• No schools in California should have a permanent police officer.

• School staff should never call a police officer to campus unless there is an imminent danger of serious physical injury or death to a person on school property.

• Schools should not use surveillance measures — such as online monitoring software, surveillance cameras or face recognition — on students and their families because these measures replicate the same harms as law enforcement presence on campus.

“Over policing of children in our public schools has fueled the school-to-prison pipeline for too long,” said Assembly member Ash Kalra. “AB 610 is a common-sense and evidence-based next step to keep students in the classroom where they can safely learn and thrive.”

Read the report here:

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