Campus police, school resource officers under review as part of reform movement

by Caroline Bottger

In the wake of the police killing of Minneapolis man George Floyd, police reform is front and center. As a result, educational institutions are rethinking their relationship with the local police departments that protect their students and staff.

Two days after Floyd’s death, the University of Minnesota announced that it would be ending its contract with the Minneapolis police department. Colleges and schools across the country have followed suit with their own plans, from UC Davis to Johns Hopkins University, which said it would pause the development of a private campus police force for two years. Yale students are calling to defund and dismantle the university’s police department.

K-12 schools are responding too. New York state’s education oversight board demanded that responsibility for security resource officers, or SROs, be transferred to New York public schools, away from police departments. Currently, the NYPD spends $314 million on school security. The Denver Public School board voted unanimously to remove police from its schools. Meanwhile, some school districts have said they will not cut ties. Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago said that she would not be terminating Chicago public schools’ $33 million contract with Chicago PD. “Unfortunately, we need security in our schools,” she said.

Security in schools takes the form of security resource officers, or SROs, who have the power to arrest. The National Association for School Resource Officers estimates that 30 percent of U.S. K-12 schools have them. They act as a visual deterrent for potential bad actors. Ideally, they become part of the fabric of the school and “build relationships with the kids,” Chad Adams, principal of Sullivan High School in Chicago’s north side, told NPR. Universities and colleges tend to have their own police departments, according to data from a Bureau of Justice Statistics survey from the 2011-2012 academic year.

After the 2018 Parkland shooting, police presence in schools increased. Eight months after the shooting, almost 20 states pledged to spend $450 million to increase school security, and this included SROs.

What would removing police from campuses mean? Activists in support of dismantling police presence say that less money spent on police means more funding for counselors and nurses. In 2018, the National Association of School Nurses reported that over 60 percent of U.S. K-12 schools had no nurses on staff. But some believe that these steps should not be taken without significant assessment of current campus safety procedures.

Writing in Campus Safety Magazine, Robin Hattersley-Gray said that before any defunding or dismantling takes place, campuses should check that they are fully funding and implementing safety measures, such as adequate mental health support and implicit bias training. “If they [the school] have only half-heartedly adopted these practices merely as a PR move, then I can see how they might be experiencing significant push-back.”

Caroline Bottger is a freelance writer who writes on issues of technology, privacy, and security. 
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