January 2013, Week 2


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Mon, 14 Jan 2013 21:47:46 -0500
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Why Do Democrats Want More Police in Schools?

by Lori Bezahler

January 11, 2013 The Nation


It's no surprise that Wayne LaPierre and the NRA think
that increasing the presence of armed police and
security in schools will be good for our children. More
disturbing, however, is that Vice President Joe Biden
and other key Democrats appear to agree. As reported by
the Washington Post, recommendations coming out of the
Gun Violence Task Force chaired by Vice President Biden
are likely to include support for increasing the
presence of police in schools. Democratic Senator
Barbara Boxer has already proposed raising the
allocation for the federal COPS in Schools program, a
major source of funding to pay school police salaries.

But as extensive research has shown, such measures
don't make students safer. In fact, they endanger their
futures by further greasing the notorious
school-to-prison pipeline. Increasing police in schools
results, for students, in increased contact with the
juvenile justice system, deterioration in academic
performance and greater dropout rates.

"Police in Schools are Not the Answer to the Newtown
Shooting" a report just issued by a broad coalition of
civil rights organizations, educational leaders,
advocates, academics, parents and students, offers a
well-documented critique of the practice of relying on
police and armed security for school safety. Produced
by the Advancement Project, Dignity in Schools
Campaign, Alliance for Educational Justice, and NAACP
LDF, it is the product of years of research, advocacy,
and the lived experiences of parents and children in
schools, and provides sensible recommendations for
keeping schools safe and supporting children.

Our own work at the Hazen Foundation has shown the
pernicious impact of well-intended but poorly thought
out efforts to keep children safe, particularly in
schools. Ever since the use of so-called "zero
tolerance" policies, police officers, and armed
security in schools escalated following the tragedy at
Columbine High School in 1999, students are
increasingly being referred to law enforcement for
behaviors that are more appropriately dealt with by
school personnel. The research indicates that reported
rates of theft and violence do not drop as a result of
having law enforcement personnel in schools and, in
fact, the presence of security guards can lead to more
chaotic or disorderly conditions. School safety
improves when students have trusting relationships with
the adults in the building, not when schools resort to
increasing police presence.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the impact is greatest for
students of color, students with disabilities, and
lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students. The
Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education
found that black students were 3  times more likely to
be suspended or expelled than their white peers and
that students with disabilities were 2 times more
likely to be suspended than other students. Whatever
the cause of these disparities, research on adult
responses to student behavior shows a correlation
between the level of teacher experience,
qualifications, and other resources at the school and
the way a school responds to safety problems: schools
with more resources have more positive and effective
responses and those with fewer resources are more
likely to rely on punitive practices. In these latter
situations, police may be substituted for counselors.
Current federal policy encourages that practice, since
funding for police in schools is readily available,
while money to train teachers and hire adequate mental
health personnel is not.

Given the direction of public policy following previous
such occurrences, it is imperative that the laudable
urge to avert the senseless slaughter of children not
lead to policies that have a negative impact on
students, schools, and communities. We have an
opportunity to undo some of the damage done by
well-meant but misguided policies implemented after
Columbine. School based interventions such as
Restorative Justice and Positive Behavior Intervention
and Supports have been shown to reduce negative
behaviors in schools. They create environments
conducive to productive teaching and learning, help
children develop problem-solving skills and take
responsibility for being a part of a community that
values every member. In schools implementing these and
similar programs violence is reduced, suspensions and
expulsions are down, and academic performance is up.
Ensuring their replication and expansion will make
schools both safer and more successful.

Increasing the presence of armed security and police in
schools may ease the anxiety of parents and the general
public, but it's doubtful that it will mean an end to
horrific events such as those at Columbine High School
and Sandy Hook Elementary. What's clear is that it will
lead to negative consequences for vast numbers of our

[Lori Bezahler is president of the Edward W Hazen
Foundation, dedicated to supporting organizing and
leadership of young people and communities of color in
dismantling structural inequity based on race and
class. The Foundation's programs focus primarily on
educational equity, but are also directed at juvenile
justice, immigration reform, gender justice, and other
public policy concerns critical to young people.]

[Thanks to the author for sending her article to



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