In the aftermath of last month’s horrific shooting in Florida, many young people and community leaders are searching feverishly for ways to improve safety and reduce violence in schools.
They have suggested improving the instant background check system for prospective gun buyers, a nationwide ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and increasing access to mental health services for young people.
Amid all these good suggestions, one horrible idea keeps resurfacing: increasing the number of armed police and security guards in schools. In this blog, I want to share three reasons why more police in schools actually makes our children less safe.
- More Money for Police Means Less Money for Counseling and Other Strategies that Really Work. Increasing access to school counselors and mental health services is a proven way to improve safety on campus, prevent teen suicide, and help young people achieve academically. However, despite its effectiveness, California currently ranks last in the nation for providing access to school counselors, with a ratio of 945 students for every counselor, compared to the national average of 477:1.
- Armed Police Create a Distrustful School Climate, Feed the School-to-Prison Pipeline and Worsen Inequities. Studies show that when students encounter armed guards, high fences, and other prison-like security features, they feel uncomfortable and are less likely to trust school leaders. Those fears are heightened when they see their peers arrested in school, often for pranks, hallway scuffles, and other conduct that should be dealt with by a principal, not a judge. Studies show that students of color are far more likely than are White students to be arrested in school, even for similar offences, and school arrests and suspensions lead to lower graduation rates and increased risk for a lifetime of poor health.
- School Resource Officers Do Not Reduce Violent Incidents on School Grounds. A school resource officer was on duty during last month’s Parkland tragedy and a Deputy Sherriff was at Columbine during the deadly 1999 Colorado shooting. It is difficult to draw definitive conclusions, but the evidence to date does not indicate that school resource officers reduce violent crimes on campus.
Placing more police in schools is a bad idea.
It misuses money that could be invested in proven solutions, like hiring more school counselors. It feeds the school to prison pipeline, especially for people of color, and it doesn’t achieve its primary goal of making schools safer.
Policymakers are 100% justified in their determination to make our schools safer, and the young people leading this movement—from Florida to California—are inspiring and courageous. We should support them by advocating for ideas that work and abandoning the failed strategy of militarizing our classrooms.