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Don't Expel School Police

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Don't Expel School Police

Newsweek June 26, 2020
EducationPre K-12

School boards in major urban districts, such as Seattle and Denver, have expelled the police—and activists are pressuring school districts across the country to follow suit. These decisions have nothing to do with the wishes of parents, the safety of students or the merits of school resource officers (SROs). It is an act of collective punishment for one incident of egregious police misconduct in Minneapolis.

There is a reasonable debate to be had about the role of SROs. On the one hand, the rhetoric about SROs leading to mass criminalization of everyday schoolhouse mischief is utterly overblown. As the Congressional Research Service has noted, the past two decades have seen a dramatic expansion of police in schools and a nearly 75 percent decrease in juvenile arrests.

The story told by social justice activists—that bad SROs can increase tension and alienate students—has been the case in some schools. But on the other hand, good SROs, in addition to protecting students and educators, become deeply respected mentors and prove to at-risk students that most cops are good people.

Serious re-evaluation of the role of SROs would take into account the perspectives of parents and students—all of them, not just the activists—and acknowledge the varying realities of school environments. If SROs are playing a role in low-level discipline issues, a school board should ask: Why? Is it because they are intentionally overstepping their bounds? Or is it because lenient school discipline policies have encouraged school administrators to outsource behavior management to the police? That is not, nor was it ever intended to be, the role of SROs.

The conclusions drawn from a school-by-school re-evaluation would vary. Some SROs should probably be replaced. Others may need to be retrained. Others may deserve a raise.

But this is not what's happening. Rather, all SROs are being condemned by the woke activists as tools of "white supremacy."

This is a terrible and toxic development. Activists lament the tragedy that can occur when bad SROs make students feel like law enforcement is inherently racist and oppressive. But school boards that remove SROs without serious deliberation are ratifying that message and depriving at-risk students of the opportunity to form a personal relationship with a man or woman who could prove that message false.

Totally absent from the conversation is the reason why many school districts hired SROs in the first place: school shootings.

Activists claim, and journalists report, that there isn't any evidence that SROs deter school shooters. But there couldn't possibly be credible empirical evidence on this question unless researchers randomly assigned potentially murderous students to schools with and without SROs and compared the difference.

The Secret Service has, however, affirmed that SROs form an integral part of the threat assessment teams that can prevent school shootings. According to research from the University of Virginia, properly conducted threat assessments also decrease the use of suspensions and expulsions and ameliorate disparities in school discipline.

What's more, we know unequivocally that SROs stop school shootings from becoming more deadly. To be sure, they don't always do so. In Parkland, SRO Scot Peterson hid outside the building, leaving the shooter 11 minutes uncontested with an AR-15 and 800 potential victims.

It is a horrible thing to have to point out, but school shootings to-date have actually been remarkably low-casualty events. The extra five, seven or ten minutes it takes for local police to receive a call and dispatch officers with little tactical knowledge of school facilities could easily afford a determined attacker the opportunity to murder more than a hundred children.

Fortunately, school shootings are still extremely rare events. But low-probability, high-impact events should still be taken into account by those to whom we trust our children. As one of us can tell you from personal experience, there is nothing worse than sending a child to school in the morning and not having her ever come home.

It would be one thing if these school districts were putting forward plans to replace SROs with other armed staff. But the districts that are defunding school police would almost certainly deem any proposal to arm teachers—no matter how much rigorous training might be required—as anathema.

If parents believe that an extremely slight decrease in the odds of their children coming home at the end of the day is a price worth paying in exchange for the benefits (imagined or real) of removing police from schools, then it is a school board's prerogative to respect and potentially act on that perspective.

But school boards aren't doing this because of parents. Rather, they are tripping over themselves in order to signal their woke bona fides by conforming to the news cycle-ordained, groupthink, knee-jerk reaction of the month. If you have a child in a public school, call or email your school board member today to demand that they take no action on SROs without public comment and debate. And if you live in a district that has already made a decision affecting the safety of your kids without your input, our only advice is: Get your children out.

This piece originally appeared at Newsweek

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Max Eden is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Follow him on Twitter here.

Ryan Petty is a member of the Florida State Board of Education and father of Alaina Petty, who was murdered in the Parkland school shooting.

Photo by CribbVisuals/iStock

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