Do Police Officers In Schools Really Make Them Safer? After the massacre in Parkland, Fla., President Trump said every school should have resource officers. But critics fear the unintended consequences like increased suspensions and arrests.
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Do Police Officers In Schools Really Make Them Safer?

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Do Police Officers In Schools Really Make Them Safer?

Do Police Officers In Schools Really Make Them Safer?

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Another story now. The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida has reignited the debate about the role of police in schools. Many, including President Trump, say there should be police or school resource officers inside every school. School-based policing is one of the fastest-growing areas of law enforcement. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports on how school police officers affect students and school safety.

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CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: When classes change at Chicago's Sullivan High School on the city's far North Side, hundreds of students pour into the hallway. Two uniformed police officers keeping watch chat with some students. Principal Chad Adams says the police officers provide a higher level of security for Sullivan and more.

CHAD ADAMS: The most - thing that's important for this school and I think any school in this country, especially in the plight of what's happened in Florida - these relationships. It's these school officers that I am lucky enough to have at my school build relationships with kids.

CORLEY: To be clear, school resource officers, or SROs, are sworn police officers and not security guards. Mac Hardy is the operations director for the National Association of School Resource Officers, or NASRO. He says they tell cops they train if they are looking for some sort of cushy job before they retire to look elsewhere. And if they consider getting a school resource officer position a lame assignment, that's not the case.

MAC HARDY: That was a misnomer when I first started. They used to you call kiddie cops and so forth. But our job is so vital. There are thousands of parents that are relying on you to work closely with that school administration and that community to keep that campus safe.

CORLEY: There's no official count, but NASRO estimates there are between 14,000 and 20,000 officers in about 30 percent of the country's schools. Those numbers began to grow after the deadly Columbine High School shooting in 1999. But Marc Schindler, the head of the Justice Policy Institute, says there is no evidence to show that expanding law enforcement by adding SROs results in safer schools.

MARC SCHINDLER: In fact, the data really shows otherwise, that this is largely a failed approach in devoting a very significant amount of resources but not getting the outcome of school safety that we're all looking for.

CORLEY: The school in Parkland, Fla., had a school resource officer on duty during the shooting. His response during the attack was roundly criticized and is part of the debate over whether having resource officers makes schools safer. While there are conflicting studies about the effectiveness of police in schools, Schindler says research shows they bring plenty of unintended consequences for students. He says that includes higher rates of suspensions, expulsions and arrests that funnel kids into the criminal justice system. That's especially true, he says, in schools attended predominantly by students of color.

AMINA HENDERSON: My name is Amina Henderson.

CORLEY: Three years ago, Henderson was a senior at a South Side Chicago high school. She was involved in a peace circle after she and another student fought. But she says she felt overwhelmed and walked away from that discussion. Henderson says a school security guard pushed her head, told her to sit down, and she pushed back.

HENDERSON: A couple of police officers came up to my dean's room and, you know, they handcuffed me. I had my fingerprints taken as well as my mug shots.

CORLEY: Henderson says she's still shaken by that event even though the charges against her - aggravated assault - were dropped. Outside his old high school on Chicago's Northwest Side, 19-year-old Antonio Magic says if SROs are supposed to build relationships with students, they often don't do a good job of it.

ANTONIO MAGIC: The only time I've seen police officers interacting with students is when students were being arrested.

CORLEY: Now a college student, Magic says school resource officers arrested him three times at the school, including the time he led a student walkout.

MAGIC: Next thing I'm being slammed up against a table, put in handcuffs. And I was charged with interfering with higher education, resisting arrest and aggravated battery.

CORLEY: His sentence was 18 months of supervision. Now both students are part of Voice (ph), an activist group lobbying for changes that would allow school districts to use some money designated for school resource officers for school psychologists, social workers and other strategies. The push continues, though, in some communities to add more police in schools in the hopes of making them safer. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

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