Commentary: DJUSD Needs to Be Careful about Adding Police to Campus

Last Thursday’s discussion on school safety seemed to foreshadow the threat that emerged late in the day on Friday.  Fortunately it turned out that the threat to shoot students at Harper Junior High was a hoax, but the recent events at Parkland, as well as other schools, have put people on the alert and frayed already frazzled nerves.

On Thursday, the administration pushed the issue of school safety forward, expediting it following events at Parkland.  The board moved to direct staff to initiate a number of upgrades. While the rhetoric from the parents seems a bit disproportional to the real threat, the biggest area of concern was the direction by the board to perform a cost analysis of adding a second school resource officer from the Davis Police Department.

The addition of school resource officers – a phenomenon that has been exploding since the 1999 Columbine High School shooting – has long concerned civil rights and civil liberties advocates.  Critics believe that, rather than creating safer campuses, they have facilitated the school-to-prison pipeline by effectively criminalizing behavior that should have been handled as more basic discipline issues.

A 2015 article by US News cites: “Thanks to inconsistent training models and a lack of clear standards, critics contend school officers are introducing children to the criminal justice system unnecessarily by doling out harsh punishments for classroom misbehavior.”

“Is this is an effective intervention strategy? It’s really not having the impact we want to have,” said Emily Morgan, a senior policy analyst at the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, a nonprofit that works to strengthen public safety and communities.

“School policing is tied to that broken windows, tough-on-crime era, when we were all panicked about the juvenile supercriminals that were going to start running the streets,” said Deborah Fowler, executive director of the advocacy group, Texas Appleseed. “They didn’t emerge, obviously.”

The ACLU in 2017 released a 95-page report: “Bullies in Blue: The Origins and Consequences of School Policing.”

The biggest problem that they cite is that “the scrutiny and authority of law enforcement are turned upon schoolchildren themselves, the very group that’s supposed to be protected.”

The problem is that introducing police onto a campus results in the criminalization of young people for matters that traditionally have been handled better as school discipline.

The ACLU is concerned that such practices have “justified the targeted and punitive policing of low-income Black and Latino youth.”

This started as a response to the war on drugs and gang interdiction efforts, but it has been expanded in the post-Columbine world.

The ACLU writes, “Later, fears of another Columbine massacre misguidedly drove the expansion of infrastructure that ensured the permanent placement of police in schools. As this report outlines, the permanent presence of police in schools does little to make schools safer, but can, in fact, make them less so.”

School Resource Officers are police officers and they are specifically identified as part of the problem: “[P]olice officers assigned to patrol schools are often referred to as ‘school resource officers,’ or SROs, who are described as ‘informal counselors’ and even teachers, while many schools understaff real counselors and teachers.”

They add, “Their power to legally use physical force, arrest and handcuff students, and bring the full weight of the criminal justice system to bear on misbehaving children is often obscured until an act of violence, captured by a student’s cellphone, breaks through to the public. Police in schools are first and foremost there to enforce criminal laws, and virtually every violation of a school rule can be considered a criminal act if viewed through a police-first lens.”

Moreover: “The capacity for school policing to turn against students instead of protecting them has always existed, and it continues to pose a first-line threat to the civil rights and civil liberties of young people.”

The ACLU findings mirror findings from 2011 from the Justice Policy Institute, “Education Under Arrest: The Case Against Police in Schools.”

Author and JPI Associate Director Amanda Petteruti stated that “schools would be better served by using scarce resources for programs and personnel that will have a long-term positive impact on both school safety and student outcomes.”

Their chief findings show “school resource officers needlessly drive up arrests for behavior issues that can, and should, be dealt with inside the school.”

“Students are needlessly arrested for offenses as minor as disorderly conduct, which can include swearing at a teacher or throwing spitballs,” noted Ms. Petteruti. “SROs lead to discipline applied without the filter of school administrators or policies. This in turn leads to a troubling disruption of the educational process through suspension and expulsion, the result of which is some students who never become re-connected to school.”

The report finds, “Unnecessarily arresting students is counterproductive to the education of our nation’s youth. High school students who come in contact with the courts are more likely to drop out. Two-thirds to three-fourths of youth who were confined in a juvenile justice facility withdrew or dropped out within a year of re-enrolling; after four years, less than 15 percent of these youth had completed their secondary education.”

A 2015 article in the Atlantic found that few school resource officers are trained to work with kids and only 12 states mandate that school resource officers receive student-specific preparation – although California is one of them.

“All officers are getting a certain level of training that they’re required to get as police officers,” said Nina Salomon, a senior policy analyst at the CSG Justice Center. “The additional training that we’re talking about—on youth development, on working with youth, on prevention and de-escalation—hasn’t typically been received by the majority of law enforcement that work with youth inside a school building, or that are called to campus.”

Susan Mizner, the disability counsel for the ACLU, points out that both “school staff and officers should know the SRO’s job is to keep schools safe from a threat, not to engage in routine discipline.

“We can’t have that line blurred,” she said. “Just because they’re there doesn’t mean we use them. That’s the first level of training, and that’s probably the hardest piece of training for both school staff and school resource officers.”

Ms. Mizner also points out that when officers do become involved, training in de-escalation techniques is critical.  That, she said, includes diversion, not direct commands for compliance.

The bottom line that school board members and administrators need to recognize is that having police in school can have consequences.  While the district should be rightly concerned with the environment and the threats that have emerged this year, we need to also recognize a fundamental fact: Davis schools are safe – far safer than most.

As the presentation on Thursday demonstrated: “DJUSD does not qualify for safety grants due to low City crime rate and few incidents of school violence.”   That should tell us something. School safety concerns are real and legitimate, but putting police on campus is a recipe for problems.

To me it suggests we should seek other, less intrusive remedies first, before considering adding police to our campuses.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Sharla C.

    My personal experience with SRO’s has soured me on the idea of having police offers assigned to schools.  It is a tedious, boring assignment and they forget who they are there to protect, often escalating  rather than diminishing  incidents.  Consider the pepper spray attack by a uniformed officer on the UCD campus in response to a peaceful protest by students. Having the Davis police respond when needed is sufficient.

    1. David Greenwald

      Exactly. When I dropped off my 14 year old at Harper on Monday, there were a couple of police cars after the hoax. Most of the time, they don’t need police presence.

  2. Tia Will


    but that one time when they do”

    So are we to live our lives in fear, 24/7, in all venues ?  Remember, it isn’t just schools. Should we have armed guards at the Varsity ? At any political event? How about concerts ? All have been targets of mass shootings.

    What is the price  ( both monetarily and psychologically) that we, as a society, are willing to pay to “feel” safer, as opposed to actually “being” statistically safer?

      1. Ken A

        Todd, if you know of more than 17 people that were “seriously injured or killed in a car/bike collision in the Davis in he last 5 years” feel free to post the names and the dates.  If you have no idea or don’t want to take the time to prove someone is wrong you should not take the time to challenge everyone you disagree with (if you took 30 seconds to talk to an engineer or a retail leasing broker you would never again post about getting rid of retail parking in town or putting a dome over I80) …

      2. Howard P

        Police reports.  The general information is public record… Contact PD… don’t think you could afford my research/documentation time…

        And the figure was for the entire time period.  Actually, much less than 17… just picked that to match the Parkland death toll… for Parkland, I did not include the serious injuries.  Just the deaths.

        Davis PD enters collision information (and PD is almost always involved when crashes/collisions involves injury or fatalities) into the SWITRS system… data from that system is a public record.  It is a summary…

        No charge, as I just know this stuff

        [Moderator: edited due to filter….]

  3. Howard P

    Remember, there was a police officer on campus, @ Parkland that day… apparently within a short distance from the active shooter… did not change the results… the shooter was not even apprehended on campus…

    Funny about folk’s idea of risk assessment vs. cost… look at all the $ that was spent striping the double bike lanes, bike boxes, etc.  Then there will be the on-going maintenance/replacement costs.  Nowhere near 17 folk have been seriously injured, much less killed in a car/bike collision in the City in he last 5 years… it is disingenuous to say that folk don’t want additional police presence in schools for cost/benefit (risk) reasons… that’s pure BS.

    There are other valid reasons for not adding police presence that have been articulated… stick to the valid ones, eschew the BS ones… just saying…

    1. David Greenwald

      ” Nowhere near 17 folk have been seriously injured”

      I would argue that this is a misuse of stats – what the national figure for bicycle injuries? Regardless that gets us way off track here in this discussion – for me the biggest problem with police on campus is the criminalization of youth of color at a young age, study after study backs this up. There is no comparable cost for infrastructure.

      1. Howard P

        Stick with the biggest problem (as you and others see it)… and it is not cost/benefit (risk) analysis…

        The national figures for an individual bicyclist’s risk of being seriously injured or killed in a car/bike collision, in their lifetime, is disappearingly small.

        1. David Greenwald

          I would probably say that the national figures for students killed on campus in mass shooting is low as well. But don’t tell that to people at Parkland or nervous parents.

        2. Ken A

          It is important to remember that “The national figures for an individual bicyclist’s risk of being seriously injured or killed in a car/bike collision, in their lifetime, is disappearingly small” for the same reason that “the national figures for an individual’s risk of being seriously injured or killed on a  snowmobile in their lifetime, is disappearingly small”.  The amount of time that the average American spends on a bike or snowmobile in their lifetime is “disappearingly small” (where “most people” that covers over a thousand miles a year on a bike or snowmobile for more than ten years usually have at least one “serious injury”). I actually stopped road biking for over 5 years after getting hit by a car for the third time in a three year stretch and I almost never ride alone on rural highways anymore.

          P.S. I stopped riding motorcycles for good a long time ago…

        3. Keith O

          I would probably say that the national figures for students killed on campus in mass shooting is low as well. 

          Remember you wrote that if/when you rail for more gun laws.

        4. David Greenwald

          Have I ever called for more gun laws?

          In a column called “Guns Kill People” I wrote:

          However, at the same time, let us not delude ourselves into believing that banning weapons is going to stop the kinds of senseless killings we saw in Aurora, Colorado.
          I am in favor of similar requirements to own a gun as we have to drive a car.  So if we wish to require licensing, testing, storage requirements, etc., I am all for it.  There is no logical argument that I can conceive of about why you would require people to train and test before driving a car, but not before owning a gun.
          However, if you believe banning weapons is going to stop gun violence, I think you are completely wrong.

  4. John Hobbs

    MOST of the time nobody needs police presence, but that one time when they do…”

    “Remember, there was a police officer on campus, @ Parkland that day… apparently within a short distance from the active shooter… did not change the results…”

    As I have observed here before, even when the police are present, they are usually impotent.  My kids’ SRO at Sac High, before Kevin Johnson stole the school, was avuncular, but probably not much of a “safety enhancement.”

  5. Keith O

    One stat that can never be calculated is how many school shootings never happened precisely because the person(s) thinking of doing the shooting knew there were cops on the campus?

    I know, Parkland, Parkland….

    There are always one or two exceptions.  The guard at Parkland was a coward and should’ve rushed in and done his job.

    Using Parkland as the example would also show that calling in police after the shootings started was also ineffective as the first responders also didn’t rush in to try and stop the shooter.

    1. David Greenwald

      We have a way to analyze that delimma – comparative statics.  Simply compare places with and without cops.  And yes, a good data analysis can control for other important variables. And bear in mind, that a lot of these are actually suicide by cop in addition to massacre and the shooter has no intention of surviving – in which case, police on campus would not act as deterrents.

    2. Jeff M

      Keith, the cop wasn’t a coward apparently.  He was following orders from his boss and long-time  supporter of a certain political party that believes in abolishing Second Amendment rights – Sheriff Scott Israel.  And the new news is that there actually four police officers that go there and failed to take action.   And it also appears that the policies of the Parkland Florida sheriff were largely influenced by the Obama-era PROMISE policy that was adopted as were many of the Obama-era policies to show political favor to his base at the expense of larger and long-term health and well-being of all.  That policy was racist in that it was purposely intended to cause law enforcement to stand-down in their actions toward black students.   But of course it would result in general policy and training for law enforcement to pull back for all incidents.

      Of course the MSM isn’t reporting the story from this angle of facts… the news is giving all its attention to the protests and irrational blame on the Armalite rifle.

      It is a sad and ironic thing that every government building housing government employees is secured almost a strongly as Fort Knox, yet we somehow believe that facilities that house our children should be kept wide open as to not upset anyone with the symbolism of danger.

    3. Ken A

      Someone made a joke last week that the Parkland SRO just wanted to make sure that gun owners would be able to keep saying “when seconds count the cops are always a few minutes away”…

      I have a friend (who after ROTC and leading Marines in to buildings in Iraq) was the “point guy” on a California SWAT team.  Guys like him would rather die than be a school SRO (and most school SROs would never be on the SWAT team and will hide when they hear gunshots)…

  6. Ken A

    I don’t think we need a cop in any Davis schools since after paying them to do nothing for years they will probably just run and hide if they ever hear gunshots (like the guy in Parkland). I do think we should have cops (maybe even more cops) in schools in high crime areas like Chicago where THOUSANDS of people are shot every year (almost 10 people a DAY last year down from almost 12 people a DAY getting shot in 2016).

    I don’t plan to ever get a CCW or ever take a gun to school, but I’m in favor of getting rid of the “gun free zone” signs and allow off duty cops or anyone else that can legally carry a gun in CA bring a gun to school (since unlike most SROs they will probably go after a school shooter if they think their own kids or students are in danger).

    While I don’t want actual cops (or even rent-a-cops) in Davis schools I do wish that the schools would get a little more strict with the kids since I feel that Baby Boomers “looking the other way” at bad behavior so much more often than the people (who lived through the Great Depression) running schools when I was a kid is not helping kids get ready for the “real world” and is a big reason that so many adults ten years out of High School are still living with mommy & daddy (and complaining about losing yet another job since they could not show up on time or finish a project on time).


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