The Case Against School Resource Officers

The Case Against School Resource Officers September 30, 2019

You want to know a problem? This. This is a problem.

A Florida police officer has been fired after he arrested two 6-year-old students at their school on suspicion of misdemeanor battery charges, prompting outcry and an internal investigation.

I had a hunch, so I checked. The police officer was a school resource officer (SRO), a police officer assigned to the school. Do you know why I checked? Because a teacher called an SRO on a kindergarten student having a tantrum in my school district this year too. And yes, all of the children involved in these incidents have been black. Maybe because black kids are criminalized when white kids aren’t. Oh, I’m sorry, not maybe. I misspoke! I meant definitely.

Have a look at this, from the Florida incident:

Officer Dennis Turner had been working as a school resource officer at the charter school when he arrested the first-graders during separate incidents, handcuffing them with zip ties, and taking them to the station, the chief said.

See. He was an SRO. We assign cops to our schools now. We have cops working our schools. Ostensibly this is to protect school safety. But then, we saw how well that worked out at Parkland, when an SRO stood passively outside the building listening to gunshots, doing nothing, while a dozen children were murdered. It turns out SROs are a lot better at arresting the students they are ostensibly there to protect than they are at actually protecting those students.

Remember that black teenage girl who was slammed to the floor in her high school for not putting away her cell phone some time back? Acting on the same hunch, I went to see if that was an SRO too. I turned to google and found a case in 2017 when an SRO in North Carolina slammed a teenage girl into the floor so hard she got a concussion, right there in her classroom.

But that wasn’t actually the case I was thinking of. The case I remembered definitely involved a girl getting in trouble for not putting away her cell phone, and this one didn’t include that detail. I hit google again, and momentarily thought I’d found the story I remembered, but no, this wasn’t it either. This case was in Texas, and the girl who was slammed to the ground by an SRO was only 12. She was body slammed onto concrete so hard she was knocked out.

But that still wasn’t the one I was thinking of. Back to google, and I think I finally found the case I remembered. It was this one, in 2016, in South Carolina. The girl got busted for using her cell phone in class, but refused to leave because white kids used their cell phones in class all the time. So the teacher called the SRO. He grabbed the girl and threw her physically from her desk.

I am appalled that it took so long to find the case I remembered, but that it did only underscores my point. And, notice notice, all of these incidents involved SROs. What a coincidence! Or not. And by that I mean definitely not.

And I didn’t even use “school resource officer” in my search terms.

Did I mention that a school resource officer was called to respond to a kindergarten student throwing a tantrum in my own local school district? In most states and most school districts, school resource officers are never trained on working with children. But should that really be our goal, anyway? Training police to work with children? Do we need to view SROs as some sort of fixtures we must live with? It’s not as though we’ve always had SROs, after all. This is a relatively new phenomenon.

You want my honest opinion? We don’t need SROs. We need school social workers and trauma counselors. You know, professionals trained in working with students, diffusing situations, promoting mental health, versed in IEPs and 504 plans, and advocating for students, not schooled in criminalizing children and solving problems through violence.

We could also, you know, regulate high capacity magazines and the sale of body armor. The last time I visited my hometown, I ate lunch right across the street from a storefront advertising “tactical gear” and “guns.” Why do we need stores selling tactical gear? Unless you’re living in a post-apocalyptic dystopia—and to be clear, we’re not—that just seems really unnecessary.

But no! Our solution is to put cops in schools and then act surprised when six-year-old black children are arrested—in a country that criminalizes blackness, with a police force that disproportionately exercises violence against people of color.

Pay attention to your local school board elections. Ask candidates for their positions on SROs, and vote for candidates who want them OUT. School districts can sever their relationships with SROs, after all. This isn’t set in stone.

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