You knew it was coming. With all the media and political world participating in a nationwide police "bash fest" it was only a matter of time before certain school board members brought up removing School Resource Officers from Guilford County Middle schools once again. The Guilford County School board held two community forums last week to obtain input on the role and need for SRO's in middle schools. Having served as an SRO for the final 8 years of my police career I decided to attend and to mention things that SRO's do that do not normally get discussed. Examples of these items would be to protect the campus from outside crimes that are on-going in the area of the school or preventing suspicious persons from accessing students or entering school property. Most of the speakers spoke in favor of retaining SRO's and represented a broad demographic of citizens. They mentioned positive relationships that SRO's have developed with students, mentoring opportunities and assisting parents and staff in problem solving. Some spoke to reducing the anxiety and apprehension their children have regarding school violence. Teachers spoke to educational opportunities regarding classroom teaching and guest speaking. My turn to speak came early in this forum and I decided to speak mainly on the positive aspects and effects SRO's have. As the evening went on the tone changed as many of those who spoke against SRO's somehow managed to get their chance AFTER those of us who could rebut their claims, misrepresentations and flat out lies.
You see, "race" is being injected heavily in this discussion. African American students do get suspended and referred to court at a higher rate than white students. The claims made during this forum as to why this disparity exists focused entirely on the existence of police officers in schools with no mention of the actual actions of the students. A few claims were lodged against the school system itself but the main gist of the claims made by these dissenters were that the arrest and discipline rates are skewed because police officers are racists. Even those who "attempted" to not blame officers as the sole reason pointed to the particular race of the officer as being the deciding factor. Here are a few of the claims made, none of which were backed up with legitimate reasoning or examples.
Most of the SRO's are white which leads to problems with African-American students.
This claim was brought up by a candidate for school board who is running unopposed meaning he will be elected. He used the statistic that 57% of SRO's are white and when I asked him after the meeting if he knew most of our local SRO's (Greensboro) were African-American at the time I was in the program, he stated "that's the national average". Sorry, but the discussion is about local SRO's not national ones. Given that the population of the United States is approximately 78% white I'm not sure the statistic has any relevance at all. This type of misuse of statistics for political points is irresponsible.
SRO's should not be in charge of school discipline.
We aren't. This is a claim constantly referred to by those opposed to School Resource Officers and no matter how many times they are told they still use this. As an SRO I would occasionally remind students of a school rule or policy but my job did not require me to be involved in enforcing those rules. Administrators generally would only call an SRO in the event of absolute non-compliance which would then cross into a criminal violation. Even then the student could generally be persuaded not to let their actions go there and gain compliance. Of course, the video of the SRO in South Carolina dragging the female student out of her chair was brought up. That SRO made the mistake of not taking the extra step of emptying the room before engaging the student. This was a common practice of mine and resulted in the student complying 99% of the time once their audience was removed with no use of physical force.
School Resource Officers who charge middle school students and arrest them are putting marks on their records at a young age for making a mistake, and that will follow them for the rest of their lives.
This claim was made by a rather large and just as loud male parent who has a history of being difficult with the schools. Instead of stating his concerns to the board, he decided to turn the microphone around so he could "preach" to the audience. He started by denouncing everyone that had spoken of "positive" experiences with SRO's (most of whom were African-American to that point) and literally went on a very boisterous tirade against the presence of "armed uniformed police officers" in schools. After three sentences that basically said "I don't like the police" he profoundly stated that "all ya'll know that this is ALL about race". He didn't really have any details other than to tell a story about how one of my former peers (a female SRO that just happened to be sitting beside me at the meeting) had kept him out of trouble once yet gave no regard to his only positive example and sticking to his premise that SRO's were racists. It was at this point that the forum completely changed. This guy decided that loud and intimidating was the way to go and his performance decidedly affected everyone who dared speak positive about SRO's the rest of the evening. He scared most of the white school board members who immediately became uncomfortable because they had zero idea how to respond. His angry proclamation "I ain't going nowhere" didn't make much sense given the lack of detail in his complaints but it served its' purpose as everyone with anything positive to say from that point on literally trembled at the microphone amongst the finger snapping and comments from the anti-SRO crowd. After his "sermon" several folks that had signed up to speak quietly declined when their name was called.
Of course, the truth which I had already mentioned in my comments to the board is that with the exception of an occasional 16 year old still in middle school, juvenile students have their records sealed and kept confidential when they turn 16. Those records are not public and DO NOT follow that child the rest of their lives. Only a recent change in the law allows prosecutors and judges to consider a juvenile offense IF it is a serious felony conviction when adjudicating an adult criminal offense. The other truth is that police officers including SRO's do not arrest or even decide to prosecute juveniles. An SRO cannot even take a student into custody without a secure custody order being sought by a court counselor and approved by a judge. An SRO does not have any say on whether a juvenile is even adjudicated. This narrative of "locking up kids" or "ruining their record" is a false narrative and nothing more than political rhetoric.
Black kids are getting arrested and sent to jail for disorderly conduct but white kids are not.
More African American students do get charged with disorderly conduct but they are not going to jail for a first, second, third or even fifth offense. White kids get arrested too. The group of African American students that commit disorderly conduct offenses are a small percentage of the entire demographic but the ones who do violate (as with white kids who are charged) this law seem to do so "repeatedly" resulting in more contact. Students that get formally charged with disorderly conduct have not committed that offense just once. When I became an SRO I was told by my peers that a charge of disorderly conduct at school was impossible to convict in court. I consulted with Judge Lawrence McSwain about this and asked he and Guilford County Court Counselor Mary Bass what criteria they wanted satisfied before referring that charge to the Court Counselor's Office. Both advised that they wanted to give school disciplinary action a chance to work first. In other words when it was apparent that school consequences were not working then a charge of disorderly conduct would be considered and stronger court related consequences implemented. Most of the time the Court Counselor would try deferment once or twice before recommending adjudication. This myth that black students or any student for that matter are being sent directly to court for a first offense is not true.
One parent told the story of her 7 year old having an SRO called on him because he wouldn't do his writing assignment. She even claimed it happened twice and the SRO warned that he could be charged with disorderly conduct. Poppycock!!! SRO's are not assigned to elementary schools, would not be called for school assignments and wouldn't even be dispatched if they were. After a few minutes of this "story" she revealed that she "had to come to class and sit with him for a school day" which is a common practice for behavioral issues with younger children.
Another parent made the incredible statement that "I don't get this charging kids for fighting; hell we fight at home all the time but we don't call the police". Still another claimed that her autistic son's "civil rights as an African American male" had been violated because the SRO was called by school administrators to escort him to in school detention. My experience with a large "high functioning" autistic population at Grimsley tells me that those kids sometimes decide to wander off campus if not supervised. No mention was made by this mother on why her son was being sent to in school detention in the first place but the administrator has more than likely had experiences with this young man that would suggest he might not show up if left to get there himself.
Children are being traumatized by a uniformed police officer carrying a gun in their school.
During my career I cannot count the number of times that I have been invited to school classrooms of all ages to speak about or display police equipment. Not once have I ever heard of a student being "traumatized" by the presence of a uniformed police officer. The very success of the Greensboro Police Department's Safety Town debunks this nonsense. Middle and High School students of all ages and ethnicities are very much outspoken and participatory when discussing laws, legal procedures and experiences in law enforcement. All of them want to see and ask questions about our equipment. Of course there is trepidation for students who have made bad decisions but routine patrol and presence in the schools do not traumatize students.
The closing remarks from school board members basically resembled their demeanor's once the attacks began. Of course, Amos Quick and Deena Hayes were hearing what they wanted to hear and used their closing remarks to get on their political soap boxes. The other board members very much chose their words carefully saying virtually nothing of substance, using the get me out of here strategic statement "you have given us all some things to consider". One even for all intents and purposes apologized for being born white. It was truly sad and very little leadership was on display. Deena even used statistics to point out that juvenile crime was at an all time low suggesting that SRO's are no longer needed. Three of the recent studies that show this reduction all state that they cannot come up with a precise reason as to "why". One can reasonably counter that argument that the trend of reduction on those numbers coincide with the implementation of the School Resource Officer program. Many board members stammered about finally concluding with the term "more training". SRO's attend a yearly conference with a week of SRO specific training in addition to the yearly police department mandatory in-service training. This does not include specialized classes and schools that officers also can attend. What "more" training are they referring to?
Also, the notion that evidence exists that school discipline is targeting African-American students more harshly than white students for the same offense is an interesting claim. A few years back, I challenged school personnel from the administrative offices who were making this claim during a pre-school year SRO meeting. The intent was to obviously get SRO's to "not enforce" certain laws. When I asked the question "are you stating that you have evidence that if a white student and a black student commit the same offense and it is both their first offense that the black student is being suspended more often than the white student"; the reply was "yes, we have that evidence". My follow up question was "who have you fired?" No answer or response was given. I question the validity of that claim due to the fact that no one had been fired for what would be a very obvious federal civil rights violation. At that time 53% of Guilford County School Principals were African American.
Whether this small group of parents want to believe it or not, arrests would go up without SRO's on campus. The loss of a visible deterrent to crime and violence alone would cause a spike in activity. The State of North Carolina has listed 17 criminal offenses that schools are required by law to report to law enforcement. If a street level officer has to respond to the school to take that report he will have zero insight into the suspect student's history, family situation or background. He will have no reference to good or bad aspects of that student when deciding what course of action to take. And if that officer does a report, he will most certainly refer that student to the Court Counselor every time. Without SRO's on campus, crime and arrest statistics will go up.
Finally, one African American high school student and her mother (a PTA president) spoke near the end of the forum. The mother wanted to speak in favor of SRO's but was obviously affected by the more vocal group of opposition. Her daughter was a perfect example of this. She told the board how "wonderful" her SRO was and how he actually would come into her choir class and warm up and sing with them. Then she quickly said how "horrible it is that the other SRO's weren't like hers". I guarantee that neither the mother or daughter came to that forum with something negative to say; they were intimidated into qualifying their remarks.
There was one item remarkably absent from the discussion from all parties involved in the forum at Grimsley. Not one time did I hear parents, school board members or any speaker refer to the responsibility of the students to behave nor any of the dissenting parents remotely taking responsibility for their child's behavior.
It's all the police's fault.