Study says more cops in NC mid­dle schools don’t make them safer

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Local - BY T. KEUNG HUI [email protected]­sob­server.com T. Keung Hui: 919- 829- 4534, @nck­hui

A new re­port look­ing at se­cu­rity in North Carolina schools is chal­leng­ing the be­lief that putting more po­lice of­fi­cers in schools will make them safer.

The study of North Carolina mid­dle schools found no re­la­tion­ship be­tween in­creased fund­ing for school re­source of­fi­cers and re­duc­tion in cases of re­ported school crimes. Ken­neth Alonzo An­der­son, the re­port’s au­thor and an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at Howard Univer­sity, said leg­is­la­tors across the coun­try should con­sider the find­ings be­fore rush­ing to put more po­lice of­fi­cers in schools fol­low­ing mass acts of vi­o­lence such as the school shoot­ing in­ci­dent in Park­land. Fla.

“I’m not rec­om­mend­ing that we re­move po­lice of­fi­cers from schools,” An­der­son said. “How­ever we need to eval­u­ate what we do and change our phi­los­o­phy on policing in schools.”

The new study, which was re­leased dur­ing Septem­ber and pub­li­cized this month by the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion, was praised by the Ed­u­ca­tion Jus­tice Al­liance, a lo­cal group which called last year for the re­moval of all po­lice of­fi­cers from Wake County schools. The group says there should be less po­lice in schools be­cause black and Latino stu­dents feel dis­crim­i­nated against by of­fi­cers.

Letha Muham­mad, the direc­tor of the Ed­u­ca­tion Jus­tice Al­liance, said it’s a “knee­jerk” re­sponse to call for more school re­source of­fi­cers af­ter tragedies like Park­land.

“I’m a par­ent,” Muham­mad said. “I have stu­dents in school so that emo­tional re­sponse is a nor­mal re­sponse for hu­man be­ings. But we have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to dig deeper than our emo­tional re­sponse and look at the data and facts to see if our emo­tional re­sponse is war­ranted or if there’s a dif­fer­ent way to look at school safety.”

But Mo Canady, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of School Re­source Of­fi­cers, said school re­source of­fi­cers play an in­valu­able role in de­ter­ring school crime. He said the study’s find­ings goes against logic and com­mon sense in how peo­ple re­act around po­lice.

“When peo­ple see a po­lice of­fi­cer, most peo­ple are go­ing to go away,” Canady said. “They’re not go­ing to want to do a crime and get ar­rested.”

Canady’s group es­ti­mates there are 14,000 to 20,000 school re­source of­fi­cers na­tion­wide. State ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials es­ti­mate there are 1,200 school re­source of­fi­cers in North Carolina.

School re­source of­fi­cers are armed of­fi­cers as­signed by law en­force­ment agen­cies to work in schools. They pro­vide se­cu­rity, speak in classes and men­tor stu­dents.

AN NC FIRST

Af­ter the Park­land shoot­ing, there was a flurry of leg­is­la­tion in North Carolina and na­tion­wide to fund more school re­source of­fi­cers.

Gov. Roy Cooper, a Demo­crat, pro­posed $10 mil­lion for more school re­source of­fi­cers as part of a school safety pack­age that also in­cluded more school coun­selors, psy­chol­o­gists, so­cial work­ers and nurses. The Re­pub­li­can-led Gen­eral As­sem­bly in­cluded $12 mil- lion for more school re­source of­fi­cers in this year’s bud­get.

School lockdowns and safety drills have be­come more reg­u­lar oc­cur­rences for stu­dents in North Carolina and na­tion­ally. North Carolina joined the list of states with a school shoot­ing when a 16-year-old stu­dent was killed at But­ler High School near Char­lotte dur­ing Oc­to­ber.

Amid the push for more SRO fund­ing, An­der­son looked at what hap­pened af­ter North Carolina law­mak­ers pro­vided more fund­ing for school re­source of­fi­cers in ele­men­tary and mid­dle schools dur­ing 2013, fol­low­ing the Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary School shoot­ing in Con­necti­cut. An­der­son has fa­mil­iar­ity with the state since he re­ceived his PhD at N.C. State Univer­sity and taught at Du­rant Road Mid­dle School in Raleigh.

An­der­son com­pared schools in the North Carolina districts that re­ceived ad­di­tional SRO fund­ing with those that did not get the ex­tra money. He found no re­la­tion­ship be­tween in­creased fund­ing and re­duc­tions in the 16 dis­ci­plinary acts that must be re­ported to the state.

But An­der­son found that schools that were smaller or had higher aca­demic achievement had less school crime.

An­der­son said his find­ings should be con­sid­ered along with other re­search which has found some stu­dents don’t feel safe even though school re­source of­fi­cers are present.

“We need to look at the over policing of stu­dents,” An­der­son said. “There’s clear ev­i­dence that SROs have thwarted mass acts of vi­o­lence. But on the whole we need to look at the things we can do other than over policing.”

Some in­ter­ven­tions could in­clude more con­flict res­o­lu­tion and char­ac­ter ed­u­ca­tion train­ing. How­ever, An­der­son said that school vi­o­lence is of­ten a so­ci­etal is­sue and not just a school­ing is­sue.

Among the more than 225 in­ci­dents on cam­puses since 1999, the Wash­ing­ton Post’s anal­y­sis found at least 40 per­cent of the af­fected schools em­ployed an of­fi­cer. The Post only iden­ti­fied two cases in the past 19 years where a school re­source of­fi­cer gunned down an ac­tive shooter.

An­der­son ad­vo­cates for what he calls a “min­i­mal­ist” ap­proach that would re­duce how much in­ter­ac­tion of­fi­cers would have with stu­dents. He sug­gests plac­ing of­fi­cers in dis­creet fa­cil­i­ties, such as closed of­fices that are equipped with tech­nol­ogy such as de­vices that can pin­point gun­shots, where they can re­spond to a mass act of vi­o­lence.

In this ap­proach, An­der­son said other school per­son­nel, who do not have ar­rest­ing author­ity, such as prin­ci­pals and deans of dis­ci­pline, can deal with mi­nor dis­or­derly con­duct.

If school re­source of­fi­cers are used, An­der­son said they should be fo­cused on very spe­cific and ne­go­ti­ated tasks such as re­duc­ing mass acts of vi­o­lence.

But Canady of the Na­tional School Re­source Of­fi­cers As­so­ci­a­tion, dis­agrees with An­der­son’s min­i­mal­ist ap­proach. He said of­fi­cers need to have daily in­ter­ac­tion with stu­dents to pick up crit­i­cal in­tel­li­gence and to build pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ships.

“There are so many things you can’t quan­tify be­cause many SROs are deeply en­gaged in school safety prac­tices and shoring up school safety mat­ters,” Canady said.

DAVID T. FOS­TER III dt­fos­[email protected]­lot­teob­server.com

North Carolina joined the list of states with a school shoot­ing when a 16-year-old stu­dent was killed at But­ler High in Matthews last month. But­ler stu­dents greeted each other at the start of a vigil at the school on Oct. 29.

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