Policing the public schools creates new problems

Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil | 5/9/2012, 9:33 a.m.

BPS employs two different types of officers on campus. The district’s own school safety officers are uniformed but unarmed, and have been granted the power of on-campus arrest by the Boston Police Department. In addition, a group of 15 officers from the Boston Police Department, who are armed but not dressed in uniform, patrol schools throughout the day. None of these officers need to consult with school officials before making an arrest.

Chester suspects increased police presence has to do with fear over school shootings, increased pressure on schools to perform and basic politics. “It’s probably easier for a lot of school districts to ask for money for police than for guidance councilors or staff,” she said. And while Chester calls school safety “paramount,” she sees these law enforcement tactics as ineffective, inappropriate and undermining the trust students have in adults.

“There are many tools the school can use to discipline students,” she went on. “But when you ask a police officer to intervene, they don’t have those tools. They can’t use school discipline — they can arrest or not arrest. So I think of it as a mismatch. There are problems that need to be addressed, but we’re not addressing them properly.”

This approach to discipline also comes at a heavy cost. In fiscal year 2012, BPS budgeted $4.5 million for safety and security, $4 million of which went to employing school resource officers.

As the report says: “In both Boston and Springfield, the amount spent on school safety dwarfs other expenditures, such as money for professional development, reading programs, counseling or psychological services, athletics/physical education, and other student support services or programs.”

The report further stated that reallocating even a small portion of these funds “could go a long way to preventing the flow of children into our juvenile or adult criminal justice systems.”

Alan J. Ingram, superintendent of Springfield Public Schools, one of the districts profiled in the report, came out strongly against the ACLU’s findings.

“The report attempts to paint a picture of an overaggressive, unorganized approach to school-based policing in our district and nothing could be further from the truth,” he said in a statement.

Still, Chester hopes the new information will help parents talk to their children’s school district about alternative methods of discipline. “I think parents need to — and I hope they will — take this information and say to the school, ‘What are you going to do about it?’ ”