Two-thirds or more of American high-school students attend their classes on campuses manned by police officers. For majority-black communities, that proportion is higher. In some school districts, even middle and elementary school campuses have police officers stationed.
These officers, termed as “school resource officers,” or “student resource officers,” are armed and uniformed. Those school resource officers are placed in districts using funds that, in most cases, were previously appropriated for school psychologists, guidance counselors, athletics, and the arts. Everything school resource officers financially displace have a more lasting, more effective impact on reducing the rate of crime.
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Mentally, the presence of those school resource officers is damaging. In those majority-black communities, parents have a legitimate fear that if their child acts out, they’ll end up as part of a tragic statistic of black people killed by police. But even outside of those communities, children are taught through action that acting out, at all, is going to be handled by an armed and uniformed police officer. According to a study published by James P. Nance and the Levin College of Law, schools that merely have a police officer on-site are more likely to refer students to law enforcement for even minor infractions. Even in cases where the school resource officer genuinely prevents violence at school, they are caught threatening to shoot the offending students, even after the threat has been subdued. But in the cases where there is no genuine threat, police in schools are seen on body camera footage putting six year-old girls in handcuffs.
What could those officers’ pay more effectively finance?
Instead of treating outbursts from children as criminal, trained experts can help students work through the anger, fear, anxiety, and home troubles they experience that leads them to act out violently towards people or property. School psychologists do more than just reduce crime, they also increase learning capacity, reduce self-harm, and reduce suicide.
Guidance counselors help those students who can tell a college-track education is not for them to find their path in life. Many students feel weighed down by anxiety surrounding a culture of “college or failure,” which reduces their capacity and willingness to learn. Guidance counselors can help students find a skilled trade that suits them for their gainful employment, and reduced poverty is a strong crime reducer. Further, guidance counselors often encourage students to find creative outlets that reduce violence as well.
Athletics and the arts
Both athletics and the arts present an opportunity for some students to attend colleges they otherwise would not be able to on scholarships and grants, and many private universities offer opportunities to edge academic cases for skilled athletes and creatives. Education and personal fulfillment related to athletic and artistic success reduce depression, anxiety, and crime.
Both schools and the criminal justice system have serious flaws, and the school-to-prison pipeline necessarily starts in schools. There is a prevailing culture among the administrations of school districts, town and city councils, and even budget committees that the best way to handle student issues is punitively. Candidates and activists dedicated to reducing crime, poverty, and police violence can easily form a united front to pull police from schools. Replacing them with school psychologists, guidance counselors, and revitalized athletics and arts programs reduces the costs on the criminal justice system and would lead to a healthier, happier, more prosperous academic culture in America.
Richard Manzo is Operations Director of the Libertarian Policy Institute. An elected official in Goffstown, New Hampshire, Richard serves as a member of the budget committee and the trust fund trustees. He formerly served as a trustee of the historic Goffstown Public Library and New England regional director of the Jorgensen for President campaign.