The National Rifle Association (NRA)’s main response in the wake of the deadly shooting in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, other than staunch opposition to even the most minor gun law reforms, has been a proposal to increase the number of armed guards in schools. However, a deeply reported piece in today’s New York Times suggests that more guns in schools would do little to improve school safety while simultaneously increasing police harassment of students along racial lines.
The article, by Erik Eckholm, surveyed the rise of “school resource officers” (policemen or non-police armed guards) in American school districts since the late 1990s. Eckholm found little to suggest that officers had made schools safer; he quotes University of Maryland school crime expert Denise C. Gottfredson as saying “There is no evidence that placing officers in the schools improves safety.” She concludes, moreover, that “it increases the number of minor behavior problems that are referred to the police, pushing kids into the criminal system.”
Eckholm assembles ample evidence to support this conclusion:
Nationwide, hundreds of thousands of students are arrested or given criminal citations at schools each year. A large share are sent to court for relatively minor offenses, with black and Hispanic students and those with disabilities disproportionately affected, according to recent reports from civil rights groups, including the Advancement Project, in Washington, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, in New York.
Such criminal charges may be most prevalent in Texas, where police officers based in schools write more than 100,000 misdemeanor tickets each yearaid Deborah Fowler, the deputy director of Texas Appleseed, a legal advocacy center in Austin. The students seldom get legal aid, she noted, and they may face hundreds of dollars in fines, community service and, in some cases, a lasting record that could affect applications for jobs or the military….Black students in the school district in Bryan, [Texas,] [activists] noted, receive criminal misdemeanor citations at four times the rate of white students.
Strict policies surrounding juvenile crime and delinquency have created what some call a “school-to-prison pipeline,” wherein punishment of students, particularly those of black and Hispanic origin, pushes them out of schools via suspension/expulsion or legal action, making a life of crime more attractive. Criminal sanction is a particularly brutal funnel, as the “collateral consequences” of a youth criminal record can render young people unemployable for years, severely limiting their opportunities to make money legally.
Studies of school resource officers find that their presence increases the rate of students arrested for “disorderly conduct” by five times, even after controlling for relative poverty levels.