School Resource Officers – for better or for worse?

March 21, 2018

Infographic based on survey done of 249 South students. School Resource Officers are police officers stationed in schools. They’re contracted with the Minneapolis Public Schools district, and there are 14 SROs stationed throughout MPS high schools. Graphic: Eli Shimanski

“It’s to provide safety to the building, staff, students, and parents that come into the building,” said Terrence Roberts, South’s student dean, about our school’s SRO. SROs – or School Resource Officer – are police officers stationed in schools. They’re contracted with the Minneapolis Public Schools district, and there are 14 SROs stationed throughout MPS high schools.

South has Adam Chard as an SRO for 4 years. For Chard, becoming an SRO was “a positive thing I could do, to bring a positive change to my career.”

“I have kids of my own, I enjoy working with kids,” said Chard. Chard explained it was important for him to create connections with South students: ““You spend enough time here, you get to know a lot of the kids,” he said. ““They realize sooner than later that the cop who works here isn’t the bad guy.”

In a survey done of 249 South students, 39.8% reported they were not aware South had an SRO, versus the 60.2% who said they did.

The survey also reported that about 30% of students felt safer with an SRO, while around 23% said they did not feel safer. The rest reported they were not sure if SROs made them safer.

Senior Shararazat Nurein does not feel safer with SROs in school: “I don’t want to feel like my every move is being watched, and if I make a mistake, there’s a police officer here,” said Nurein. “That kind of scares me, because it’s like, why do we need the escalation of that?”

Nurein also explained that South already has security monitors roaming the halls. “We have the security guards so why do we need officers,” she said. “If there’s some sp ecial training the police officers have, why can’t we give that training to our security guards?”

Roberts, on the other hand, explained that, “there’s a big difference between security monitors and SROs.” While security monitors oversee hallways and help with behavioral issues, “SROs get involved in student activities when administration calls them,” said Roberts. “We call the SRO when we feel there’s maybe something bigger, like assault, or parent request, a restraining order.”

Officers have to volunteer to be placed in a school. They have to go through special training, such as receiving a Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) certification, and must complete 24 hours of training from the Minnesota School Safety Center. Along with this, they need to do 16 hours of continuing education each year, as long as they are working with MPS.

According to the MPS site, the purpose of SROs is to, “foster positive relationships between youth and the police,” as well as, “support safe learning environments by protecting students and staff from high-threat situations that either start inside the school or from the outside.”

School Resource Officers became prominent in schools across the nation after the 1999 school shooting of Columbine, where 13 people were killed. “Particularly after Columbine, a lot of schools deemed it was necessary to have SROs in the building, for many reasons,” said Roberts. “There have been strangers, adults, or just people lingering on the school premises, school grounds outside on the parking lot, cars that don’t belong here, thefts from vehicles, so we want the SROs to investigate those, and just protect property and people here.”

Senior Lilah Schulz has mixed feelings about SROs: while she thinks they could help protect the school in the face of a major threat, she also understands the argument against them. “As a white woman, I’m not uncomfortable [with the SRO], but I can see how others could be,” said Schulz. “I do feel like in a threatening situation he could be beneficial.”

“If there was someone with a gun in our school the security guard wouldn’t be able to do much,” said Schulz. “The SRO is more here for threats, or some cases, dealing with arresting people.”

Junior Sisi Mitchell shared a similar sentiment. “It’s important that we have somebody in the school who knows how to deal with those situations, like fighting, or somebody bringing a gun to the school,” she said. “I don’t think the problem is having officers in the school, I think it’s the mentality that we have.”

The implementation of SROs in schools has also been a big point of conversation on a district level. In 2017, the MPS Board of Education voted 8 to 1 in favor of reducing SROs in schools, a proposal made by Superintendent Ed Graff, from 16 SROs in the district down to 14. Sam Crossley, a Spanish teacher at Emerson who has worked with MPS for 6 years, is against SROs in school. Crossley spoke out at a school board meeting back in November, advocating for the removal of SROs, which, to him, as he explained in an email interview, “represent the unjust criminal “justice” system.”

At the meeting, Crossley described an incident he’d experienced in highschool, when his friend, Derrick, was slammed into a hallway door, by an in-school officer. “He was passing through the hallway, and was nabbed by the officer,” recalled Crossley, at the meeting. “Knee in the back, cuffs on his back, [the] officer repeating, ‘I will tase you! I will tase you if you don’t chill out!’ And then he was hauled out. That same child who was playing soccer with my brother and sister.”

“There was no fight to be broken up. There was no imminent threat. There may have been an instance of talking back to a teacher. Maybe, if we really stretch the possible narrative, there was suspicion of marijuana,” explained Crossley, reflecting back on the incident in the interview. “Nothing that this young man did warranted the extreme use of force that the officer exhibited. I left the situation shook and wary.”

Fiona Rose Kelly and Beatrix Del Carmen are both seniors involved with YPAC, or Young Peoples Action Coalition. YPAC has been actively fighting for the reduction, and ultimately elimination, of SROs in the MPS district. “We’re trying to have at least a few students at every board meeting that talks about SROs,” said Rose Kelly. “Right now, YPAC has been meeting with a lot of school board members about finding alternatives to SROs,” explained Del Carmen.

An argument in favor of the removal of SROs is that having police presence in schools, “perpetuates the School to Prison Pipeline,” said Del Carmen. According to Del Carmen, the School to Prison Pipelines is a cycle where, “students are color are disproportionately suspended or expelled or given harsher consequences for things that non-poc students will just kind of get away with…That kind of starts in schools and continues into broader systems, and I think that SROs definitely add a lot to that because SROs are basically just police officers.”

Roberts considers SROs important for the school, as well as to make students feel safe, and protected. “When students come into the building they see a uniformed police officer, so it feels safe,” he said. “Students feel safe. When you’re out in the streets, and you see cop cars patrolling your neighborhood or whatever the situation is, you feel like ‘oof, I’m glad they’re here,’ so it’s the same things for schools.”

Alternatives to SROs are being discussed. Rose Kelly explained that YPAC was looking at the implementation of a “community ambassador,” in place of the SRO. “Someone from the community, for the community, who has proper training in de-escalation and counseling,” they said.

To Rose Kelly, SROs not only, “make learning environments emotionally unsafe,” but they don’t receive the training they should to work with students. “They only have 24 hour to 3 day training to go from a street cop to a school cop, and if teachers have to go to school for years just to get their degree in teaching, I don’t know how you would learn intensive de-escalation tactics and skills on taking care of students,” they said. “I want SROs gone completely.”

Crossley believes SROs represent a bigger societal issue. In the interview, Crossley went on to say that, “schools, for better or for worse, often reflect other larger institutions in our society.” He believes that, “If schools are looking to feed the status quo and continue mimicking the society at large, SROs will continue to have a place in schools…Schools need to embrace more restorative justice practices and shift the systems of power so that student voices carry more weight.”

 

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