The study found that in schools with law enforcement, “discipline responsibilities tend to be shifted away from teachers, administrators, and other school staff to the [school police officers].”
On average, the data shows a 12 percent increase in reporting “non-serious violent crime” in schools with police officers compared to those without.
“The presence of an officer in the school is associated with more than a doubling of the rate of referrals to law enforcement for the most common crime perpetrated by students in schools—simple assault without a weapon.”
In 2014 the Philadelphia School District implemented a “delinquency diversion program” to provide alternatives to arrest for students accused of minor or first-time offenses. In the first year of the program, student arrests dropped by 54 percent and There were 1,051 fewer behavioral incidents reported in the District.
Still, some police-student interactions drew attention. Last May a student at Benjamin Franklin high school was physically restrained by a school police officer in the hallway after an argument between the student and the officer.
The student was trying to use the boy’s restroom when he was stopped by the officer. He did not have the appropriate bathroom pass to use that restroom, so the officer blocked his way and the argument ensued. The District has not pursued criminal charges against the student.
McGinley said that the primary concern of school police should be the security of the building, and they should only enter classrooms “in an emergency.” He added that police should never be used to confront problems with “student behavior.”
“You have to be really clear about the goals and functions of the school’s staff and the roles and functions of the school’s police,” McGinley said. Kupchik said the same thing.
A 2011 study by the Justice Policy Institute, using data from the U.S. Department of Justice, found that “there is no clear correlation between rates of theft or violence and the number of school police.”
Nationally, the study found that numbers of school police reached their peak in 2003. By 2007 there were fewer police in schools, yet that year had the “lowest levels of student-reported incidents of theft and violence since 1997.”
The District has been decreasing the number of police officers in recent years—in the 2009 it employed 455 school police officers, compared to 359 at the beginning of this school year.
One of the more startling findings of Gottfredson and Na’s study was that rates of crime being recorded actually increased in nearly every category in schools with police.
The study concluded that the primary causes of this were that “police officers may increase the accuracy of school records of these crimes, or they may redefine ambiguous situations to conform to legal definitions of weapon or substance possession.”
However, the study also offered another minor contributing factor since school police officers reported spending 25 percent of their time counseling or mentoring students:
“Counseling services provided by the police may be, on average, less effective than those provided by trained counselors,” the study reads. “By shifting responsibility for counseling troubled youth to police, problems may be exacerbated rather than resolved.”
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released a study in 2014, which found the use of school police, and harsh disciplinary tactics in general, disproportionately affect students of color and students with disabilities.
The study found that while African American students comprised 16 percent of U.S. public school students, “they represent 27% of students referred to law enforcement and 31% of students subjected to a school-related arrest.”
The study found that African American students are suspended and expelled at three times the rate of white students.
A 2016 study from the International Journal of Health Services found that minorities in need of mental health services are less likely to receive treatment than their white counterparts.
“We found particularly low mental health utilization rates among the groups at highest risk for incarceration: black and Hispanic young men,” the study reads. “An extraordinary number of inmates—at least half, according to a Department of Justice report—suffer from mental illness.”
“Prisons and jails have become de facto mental institutions,” the study concludes.
In Philadelphia, a majority African-American school district where 38 percent of children live in poverty and black students are three times more likely to face expulsion than white students, there is a dire need for more counselors.
Without them, the children who need the most attention from a counselor are likely to get it from a police officer instead.