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Sunday, June 16, 2024
As a bill that would provide money for schools to hire armed security personnel makes its way through the Legislature, some worry that the primary effect would not be student safety.

As a bill that would provide money for schools to hire armed security personnel makes its way through the Legislature, some worry that the primary effect would not be student safety.

As lawmakers turn to the police to quell school violence, some fear more harm than good

As states juggle policy solutions in the wake of the deadly Parkland school shooting, a new bill rushing its way through the state Legislature would provide money to put armed safety officers in schools.

The proposal has already cleared the Assembly and now heads to the state Senate to be considered in the last day of that chamber’s session later this month.

“We were outraged. When this happened, we were literally outraged. Drafted the legislation immediately and put it on the floor,” said state Rep. John Macco, R-Ledgeview, in a press conference.

The bill also quickly earned the endorsement of both the Green Bay Police Department and the Brown County Sheriff’s Department.

“That school safety officer, in my plan, has got one goal: Keep your kids safe. Keep the bad guy from breaching the front door and getting into your school, and protecting our kids,” Green Bay Police Chief Andrew Smith told reporters.

Placing police officers in schools has become a go-to solution for policymakers in response to school shootings; after the shooting deaths of 16 students and a teacher at Columbine in 1999, thousands of schools across the country were given the go-ahead to hire student resource officers and other armed security personnel.

In 1975, only 1 percent of schools reported having a regularly stationed police officer present, but by 2007, that number had jumped up to 40 percent.

"We need to make sure our schools are safe, just like we did with our airlines after 9/11. There should not be any student, any parent and teacher in this state that should ever have to worry about their school being safe," said Gov. Scott Walker in a visit to Green Bay

A report by the Congressional Research Service found, in general, that schools are quite safe places for students. Some violence occurs annually, but it is extremely rare and overwhelmingly not felony violence.

Violent occurrences have also dropped dramatically in the last several decades, and while some advocates attribute this to the expansion of student resource officer programs, the report suggests the trend began earlier.

While some lawmakers are quick to propose armed school officers in hopes of addressing student safety, others worry about potential unintended consequences.

Since school resource officers exist and act as law enforcement, they must deal with the enforcement of the law in general, not only the protection of students from violent crimes.

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Considering most criminal activity in schools are not violent felonies, the majority of the job consists of enforcing smaller, juvenile offenses.

The congressional report notes “several incidents of students in public schools in Texas being ticketed and required to appear in court for behavior that was traditionally dealt with by teachers and principals. This and similar stories might raise some concern among policymakers that a wide-scale expansion of SRO programs could contribute to what has been referred to as the ‘school-to-prison pipeline.’”

A 2009 study by the Journal of Criminal Justice found the presence of an officer in a school, while mildly successful at reducing the already rare cases of weapons charges, also indeed led to a sizable increase in student arrests for minor infractions, like disorderly conduct.

Civil rights groups have been especially skeptical of the practice, arguing their legitimization into a school setting is part of a wider policy trend towards the surveillance and institutionalization of marginalized communities.

“Their power to legally use physical force, arrest and handcuff students, and bring the full weight of the criminal justice system to bear on misbehaving children is often obscured until an act of violence, captured by a student’s cell phone, breaks through to the public,” the American Civil Liberties Union said in an analysis of the impact of SRO programs. “The capacity for school policing to turn against students instead of protecting them has always existed, and it continues to pose a first-line threat to the civil rights and civil liberties of young people.”

Proponents of the bill, however, argue that schools should be provided as many resources and options as possible in regards to the safety of their students.

“I'm the chief of police, and I've got some good ideas, but I'm not going to force my officers into somebody's school who doesn't want them there,” says Smith. “Certainly this is the school district's call. Ultimately they get to make the call, the parents get to make the call.”

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