Officers on Campus
Christopher Mallett (2016) explains the ways in which schools have changed over time regarding response to student misconduct. Increasingly, schools rely on zero tolerance policies for even small misdemeanors, which has created close ties between schools and the juvenile justice system. To help enforce stricter policies schools also often rely on school resource officers (SROs). These zero tolerance policies were originally used for the purpose of fighting drug use, but have evolved to include any behaviors which school officials might consider “disruptive” or “unacceptable” (Mallett 2016).
Matthew Theriot and Matthew Cuellar (2016) also add that while having police officers on school campuses has been around as early as the 1950s, it wasn’t popularized until the 1990s. An estimate in 2010 announced that approximately half of public schools in the United States had officers in their schools and that those numbers were expected to grow. Federal funding for SROs has increased, contributing to this growth in numbers. School officials, as well, may be motivated not only by the prospect of keeping up a safe environment, but also by the idea of removing any students who may pose a problem which could make the school look bad or produce low test scores (Theriot & Cuellar 2016).
Effects on Students
This large influx of SROs has had a strong impact on students, but not on school safety. In their efforts to keep the schools safer, officers can blur the lines of students’ civil rights, such as unreasonable search and seizure, which can be ignored if officers have “reasonable suspicion,” a very vague determination (Theriot & Cuellar 2016). This in turn can make students feel disrespected and unsafe in school while also contributing to the criminalization of student actions. Mallett describes how the growth of strict discipline policies has only lead to an extreme increase in school suspensions and student arrests. Most of these arrests are also for actions that do not put the school in danger, like “disobedience” or “unruly behavior” (Mallett 2016). Rather than make school campuses safer, SROs just put students—especially minority students—at higher risk of severe punishment for minor offenses (Theriot & Cuellar 2016; Mallett 2016).
Schools don’t have to continue down the road they’re headed. Mallett suggests a move towards rehabilitation programs rather than punishment and severe discipline policies. Social workers, for example, could help facilitate issues that students have (Mallett 2016). Theriot and Cuellar detail different ways SROs themselves can do better, starting with more supervision and collaboration with school officials. Clearing up any vague policies in order to hold SROs accountable for certain restrictions can also help reduce inappropriate use of force and misconduct by officers. They also strongly suggest a more comprehensive training program for officers, including information on student rights, developmental psychology, restorative justice techniques, respect for different cultures, and more (Theriot and Cuellar 2016). All of these steps can create a better relationship between officers and students and help fight the school-to-prison pipeline.
Theriot, M. & Cuellar, M. (2016). School resource officers and students’ rights.
Contemporary Justice Review, 19(3), 363-379.
Mallett, C. (2016). The school-to-prison pipeline: a critical review of the punitive
paradigm shift. Child Adolescent Social Work Journal, 33, 15-24.