WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Justice Department announced funding awards to 263 cities and counties, aimed at creating 937 law enforcement positions.  More than $125 million will be awarded nationally, including nearly $45 million to fund 356 new school resource officer positions. The news comes after last December’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT.

While some groups have pushed for the Administration to provide funding for more school police in hopes that they would protect schoolchildren from harm, a host of juvenile and criminal justice organizations including the Justice Policy Institute, Campaign for Youth Justice, National Juvenile Justice Network and Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth note that research has shown police in schools have not made schools safer, and they negatively affect our youth by sweeping many of them unnecessarily into the justice system and interfering with the educational process.

“Adding law enforcement officers to our schools is not going to achieve the outcomes we are all looking for,” said JPI Executive Director Marc Schindler. “Though it may sound appealing, adding law enforcement officers to schools typically does’t make kids feel safer, and there is no evidence to show it actually makes kids safer. In fact, it can make kids behave in ways that are not safe. The bottom line is more police in schools will mean more incidents being handled by the courts instead of school principals and social workers, adding to what many call the ‘school to prison pipeline.’Just last month, during the American Bar Association annual conference, Attorney General Eric Holder stated : “A minor school disciplinary offense should put a student in the principal’s office and not a police precinct.” Nevertheless, today’s announcement conveys a different message.

“Horrific incidents unfortunately often lead to bad policy,” continued Schindler regarding incidents of school violence. “What we should do is to look at the research and experience in the field and be guided by what we know are best practices, and SROs don’t make the grade.”

Instead of providing funds for schools to hire officers, we recommend the following:

  • Remove all law enforcement officers from schools: School safety can be addressed without on-site SROs. And although there is some evidence that SROs can play a positive role as counselors and mentors in schools, these roles can be better filled by people primarily trained in these areas.
  • Refrain from using law enforcement responses to student behavior: Schools did not always call police or rely on SROs to deal with all manner of student behavior. Schools should make a concerted effort to avoid calling the police or using a law enforcement response for all but the most serious offenses.
  • Institute a system to review the validity of arrests within the circumstances of the offense: Jurisdictions could implement a system by which an agency, like the juvenile court, could review arrests and referrals coming from schools to determine whether or not they should be handled within the court or by some other means. Arrests and referrals for minor offenses, like disorderly conduct, could be prevented from entering the justice system and over time officers will learn to stop making unnecessary arrests.
  • Invest in education: Investing in education both improves achievement and promotes safer schools. Ways to do that include increased hiring of quality teachers, staff, counselors, and other positive role models; building safe, clean schools; and providing training and supports for teachers and staff related to behavior management.
  • Invest in prevention and intervention strategies that work: Prevention and intervention comes in many forms and includes Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, Social and Emotional Learning, student conflict resolution programs, mentoring, cognitive behavioral therapy in schools, and any number of peace resolutions in schools.
  • Collect more, better data: There is no national data that shows how many students are arrested in schools, let alone the additional data that would show the type of offense, the demographics of the students arrested (e.g. age, race, and whether or not a student is on an individualized education plan), and by what type of officer. Data showing that schools that suspend, arrest, or expel too many students should be taken into account in yearly progress determinations.
  • Create graduated responses to student behavior that take into account the circumstances of the case
  • Provide training and evaluation: Any police coming into contact with youth, especially at school, should be trained to work with youth, which requires learning to work with students appropriately in a school setting, especially students with disabilities.
  • Reduce disproportionate impacts on students of color and students with disabilities: Jurisdictions and schools must be cognizant of the impact that arrests in schools have on students of color and students with disabilities. Although there is limited data on either subject, there is enough information from large jurisdictions, which is included in this report, to indicate that this is a real problem.

Read our fact sheet: Measured Responses: Why increasing law enforcement in schools is not an effective public safety response to the Newtown tragedy
Read our report and executive summary: Education Under Arrest: The Case Against Police in Schools
Read National Juvenile Justice Network’s Safe and Effective School Disciplinary Policies and Practices.