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More Police - In Schools and Out - Not the Answer

While the Justice Policy Institute can support some parts of today's the proposal by President Obama - including more research on gun violence and improved mental health services - we are extremely concerned with the expansion of law enforcement in and out of schools. In particular:

$4 billion more for COPS still a bad idea.
After failing to gain support last year, the Administration is using the Newtown tragedy to try again to push through $4 billion in additional funding for the COPS program to put "more cops back on the job and back on our streets." However, prior research has shown that the hiring of more officers through Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) was not responsible for reductions in violent crime at the county level from 1994 to 2000.[1] A previous evaluation by the Government Accountability Office stated, "Factors other than COPS funds accounted for the majority of the decline in crime during this period. For example, between 1993 and 2000, the overall crime rate declined by 26 percent, and the 1.3 percent decline due to COPS, amounted to about 5 percent of the overall decline. Similarly, COPS contributed about 7 percent of the 32 percent decline in violent crime from 1993 to 2000."[2]   (See our fact sheet: Behind the Times: President Obama's FY2013 Budget).

"The President said he was interested in research about what works. One thing we know doesn't work is more police in schools," says Tracy Velázquez, JPI executive director. "There is no evidence that the massive increase in school resource officers after Columbine had any impact on already dropping rates of school violence. And more police in schools mean more arrests for what used to be school discipline issues, with terrible consequences for youth who now are swept up into the justice system."
 
The U.S. continues to have lower rates of violent and property crime than five or ten years ago (see our fact sheet on the FBI Uniform Crime Report), and past experience has shown that more police has primarily meant more arrests for drugs and other low-level offenses. These low level and drug arrests have large, negative collateral consequences, including large incarceration costs to states and counties with no real public safety benefit, and decreased life outcomes for those who lose jobs and social ties and then face barriers to future employment, education and housing as a result of having an arrest record.

More School Resource Officers (SROs) will harm rather than help youth.
The Administration is proposing to give preferential treatment in the current budget cycle for SROs, and wants to see increased SROs in the future to "give parents some peace of mind." However, our research indicates that greater numbers of school resource officers do not always correspond with fewer crimes. Rates of violent crimes in schools had already begun falling by 1999, from 59 incidents per 1,000 students in 1994, to 36 in 1999 just prior to the launch of COPS in Schools - a 39 percent decline. During the main influx of money and police, from 1999 to 2004, there was a continued but less dramatic (33 percent) decline in school violence. Since then, school violence has continued to fall, with 14 incidents reported per 1,000 students in 2010, even while due to budget cuts there have been significant decreases in the number of SROs and other law enforcement officers in schools. The number of homicides in schools has also been declining, although because of their relative rarity (over 98 percent of student homicides occur away from school), an incident like the Newtown tragedy will obviously affect this trend. And since most officers in most schools most of the time don't have to deal with armed intruders, school personnel often rely on them for routine disciplinary problems. The result has been a massive increase in the number of youth being arrested at schools and formally processed through the justice system. Even when controlling for school poverty, one study found that schools with an SRO had nearly five times the rate of arrests for disorderly conduct as those without an SRO. Denver saw a 71 percent increase in school referrals to law enforcement between 2000 and 2004, while in Clayton County, Georgia referrals increased dramatically when SROs were introduced, from less than 100 per year in the 1990s to approximately 1,400 in 2004. See  Measured Responses Factsheet.

"We didn't need $4 billion more for COPS last year when President Obama first proposed it, and we don't need it this year," continues Velázquez. "Crime continues to be down. This is really a jobs program, and if the President wants to fund jobs that improve public safety, more public health money for mental health and substance abuse treatment providers would be a good place to start."  

Despite a so-called "epidemic" of gun violence, crime against children and youth are on the decline. The number of violent non-fatal victimizations against students ages 12-18 dropped 71 percent between 1992 and 2010, from a total of 1,240,200 in 1992 to 358,600 in 2010. This corresponds with national trends of fewer crimes across the board. Rates of violent victimizations at school and outside school dropped 74 percent and 85 percent, respectively, between 1992 and 2010. [Data from: http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/iscs11.pdf]

Youth of color will likely be most directly impacted by increased SROs. While no national data exists showing that SROs in particular arrest youth of color more than white youth, we do know that youth of color are disproportionately arrested overall. And in school-level analyses that have been done in places like East and West Hartford, Connecticut, Colorado, and South Carolina, students of color have been subject disproportionately to school arrests. See Education Under Arrest, part VI, for more details.

Additional funding to address youth violence should go through public health and school systems. The President is also calling for "1,000 new school resource officers and school based mental health professionals." Any of this funding spent on school resource officers would be tax dollars wasted. Thousands of children with mental health problems continue to go untreated. Funding evidence-based and proven strategies, including more mental health professionals and programs like Social and Emotional Learning, would be positive investments.

The President's recommendation to support evidence-based and proven strategies, including more mental health professionals and programs like Social and Emotional Learning, would be positive investments.

"We are glad the President is beginning to move, with these initiatives, towards improving school climate and discipline policies," added Velázquez. "These are better ways to improve the safety and effectiveness of our schools for all children."

JPI is available for media comment.

Contact our Director of Communications, Zerline Hughes at zhughes@justicepolicy.org or 202.558.7974 ext. 308 or 202.320.1029.

Posted in Press Releases, Criminal Justice News