Do Police Officers Make Schools Safer or More Dangerous?

Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, said he was disappointed by attempts to link school policing to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. He called Mr. Floyd’s death during an arrest “the most horrific police abuse situation I’ve seen in my career.”

Well-trained school resource officers operate more like counselors and educators, Mr. Canady said, working with students to defuse peer conflict and address issues such as drug and alcohol use. He suggested that disproportionate discipline and arrest rates for students of color and those with disabilities could be driven by the actions of police officers coming off the street to respond to one-off calls from schools, or by campus officers who lack adequate training in concepts such as implicit bias.

“The message to the districts has to be, ‘Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.’” Mr. Canady said.

But as schools face significant budget cuts brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, some students, educators and policymakers say it would be wiser to hire psychologists to provide counseling and nurses to advise students on drugs and alcohol, instead of training police officers to do such tasks.

In Prince George’s County, Md., outside of Washington, Joshua Omolola, 18, has marched to protest the killing of Mr. Floyd. Now, as the student member of the Board of Education, he is supporting a proposal to remove police officers from the county’s schools, whose students are predominantly black and Hispanic.

The millions the county spends annually on school policing should be reallocated to mental health services, Mr. Omolola argued, to treat the root causes of student behavioral problems.

Police departments have typically responded to calls from school employees, but the everyday presence of officers in hallways did not become widespread until the 1990s. That was when concern over mass shootings, drug abuse and juvenile crime led federal and state officials to offer local districts money to hire officers and purchase law enforcement equipment, such as metal detectors.

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