What Education Leaders Need to Know about School Policing
by Harold Jordan and Ghadah Makoshi
Interactions between young people and police don’t occur just on the streets of America. They are happening in our nation’s K-12 schools. Today, some 51% of all public schools have sworn law enforcement officers, 91% of whom carry firearms.
Typically, when controversies arise, police say, “Don’t blame us. We’re here because the school asked us to be here.” Educators say, “We cannot control what police do in our school — that’s a law enforcement matter.” As it turns out, education leaders can have more control over these interactions than they think.
Too often, school administrators adopt safety and policing measures that are not based on research, but that are assumed to make schools safer. Typically, police end up serving as school disciplinarians and young people end up with unnecessary involvement in the justice system, or they are physically harmed.
This is a nationwide problem.
At the ACLU of PA, we’ve been organizing dialogues with top-level school administrators and board members, called “school policing summits.” Our new report — Police and Pennsylvania’s Schools: What Education Leaders Need to Know — highlights this recent work with education leaders. In these summits, we brought together district leaders with school safety and disability rights experts and explored how education leaders can make informed decisions about school climate and the role of police.
Our main take-away from these summits is that education leaders have limited understanding of the possible consequences of student contact with police. This contact can take the form of an arrest and a possible adjudication of delinquency (the juvenile justice system equivalent of an adult conviction) or ticketing for more minor infractions (such as disorderly conduct or alcohol consumption). The latter, known as summary offenses or citations, results in convictions and fines in adult court, even when students are not arrested. Here, youth have fewer rights than in the juvenile system. For example, they have no right to an attorney.
The impact of a child’s involvement with the justice system can be far greater than a…