More Police In Schools Is NOT The Answer
An example of security theater with proven negative social impacts
[Update 5/27/22: At the time this post was written, local law enforcement had stated that the School Resource Officer at Uvalde had attempted to prevent the gunman from entering the school. As of 5/26/22 the official story has changed and law enforcement spokespeople are now stating that after shooting at the school for approximately 12 minutes, the gunman was able to enter the school without resistance, despite three officers being present. In fact, there is now reporting that the SRO was not even present.]
We are reeling from the second mass shooting in two weeks. Not to mention the worst mass shooting on a school ground since the attack at Stoneman Douglas High School shooting on February 14, 2018 (or the worst in terms of casualties since the Sandyhook shooting a decade ago). And, as always in the wake of one of these awful acts of violence people respond with knee-jerk ideas. One, in particular, that I have seen floated, primarily by folks on the center-right on Political Twitter, is “improving security at schools.”
Taken on its own, it sounds common sense enough. The issue is that the moment you consider it in any depth, you quickly discover that it’s a cure that is potentially worse than the disease.
I’m going to sidestep the idea of arming teachers, for the most part. I do appreciate the irony of, after months of accusing many of them of being radicals indoctrinating students is racial hatred and victimhood–not to mention sexual deviancy–the same people also apparently want to arm them.
Instead, I want to focus on what “improving security at schools” typically entails: adding more police to schools. This is a topic I covered recently in the past in the second part of a long post. I’d like to begin by grounding this conversation with some facts.
- When this was surveyed last, during the 2017-2018 school year, 58 percent of public schools had either school resource officers (SROs) or other sworn law enforcement officers, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Another 22.3 percent had security personnel. That was almost double the amount from two decades ago. And note that the survey was prior to the aforementioned Stoneman Douglas shooting. Anecdotal evidence suggests the percentage has increased since that event.
- According to an Urban Institute analysis, as the percentage of black or Hispanic students attending a school increases, the chances that there is an SRO at the school increases.
- The Brookings Institute estimates that close to $1 billion has been invested from state and local budgets since 1999 to continue funding SROs in schools.
- During a period when youth crime was on the decline, ACLU research found that the arrest rates for schools with SROs were 3.5 times the rate of those without SROs, and in some states, the arrest rates are as much as eight times the rate of schools without. Reason has cited similar findings.
There is little to no evidence that the presence of SROs stops a determined school shooter (in fact, SROs were present at the Robb Elementary school yesterday, as well as during the Stoneman Douglas shootings and at the 2018 Santa Fe school shooting, among others). I realize that some might want to argue that “we cannot count the number of schools where SROs prevented someone from even considering an attack.” The problem with this argument is that it is based on an impossible-to-prove hypothetical. Ultimately, adding more police to schools is the same type of “security theater” that irks people about current TSA practices (i.e. “clearly we need to keep removing our shoes and being swabbed for explosives because since we’ve started doing that no one has shoe bombed an American plane”).
There is a second argument that can be made which is “well, clearly we need even more SROs to keep the kids safe!” However, when we look at the empirical evidence, that doesn’t seem to be the case either. In fact, in the long term, the presence of SROs may make students, in particular ones from marginalized groups, less safe.
The unfortunate reality is that what SROs appear to do better than anything else is feed a school-to-prison pipeline. The presence of an SRO in a school has been demonstrated to correlate with increased juvenile arrest rates, often for minor (non-violent offenses or cases that turn violent when a student is charged with “resisting arrest”). And additionally, and more problematically, as with the rest of the criminal legal system, BIPOC students are disproportionately more likely to have negative interactions with SROs. For example, take the following from a recent study:
We also find that SROs intensify the use of suspensions, expulsions, police referrals, and arrests of students… These effects are consistently over two times larger for Black students than White students.”The Thin Blue Line in Schools: New Evidence on School-Based Policing Across the U.S.
In fact, this is also demonstrated in the aftermath of the Stoneman Douglas Shootings when Florida mandated the presence of SROs in all public schools. Chris Curran of the University of Florida found that, after years of declining youth arrest rates across the state, “the presence of law enforcement in [Florida] schools was related to increases in the number of behavioral incidents reported to the state, the number of such incidents reported to law enforcement, and student arrests.” For a summary of those findings, see this Washington Post article. Here are some of the highlights:
– The percentage of youth arrests happening at school hit a five-year high of 20 percent.https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/09/03/there-are-now-more-police-officers-floridas-schools-than-nurses-student-arrests-are-rising/
– The number of students expelled from school increased 43 percent.
– For the first time ever, there are more police officers working in Florida schools — 3,650 — than there are school nurses, who number 2,286.
– The number of police officers in schools is more than double the number of school social workers (1,414) and school psychologists (1,452).
– Schools reported more than four times as many incidents of using physical restraints on students.
Any involvement in the criminal legal system is traumatic–not just for the individual arrested but also for their families. Social services often become involved, adding additional stresses on a, more often than not, already stressed home. Families will have to navigate our complex criminal justice system, which includes attending hearings (which leads to missed school), paying for criminal defense services, and dealing with the economic impact of various fines and fees. And while most juvenile records are ultimately sealed, there is significant evidence that rather than being “scared straight,” juvenile involvement with the criminal legal system is correlated with a greater probability of adult involvement in the system.
Simply put, while adding more police to schools might make some parents (in particular, those coming from a place of privilege who haven’t experienced over-policing in their communities) feel “safer,” there is no evidence to suggest that is actually the real-world impact. Worse yet, that feeling of “safety” comes with a hefty price tag that actually destabilizes families and communities–in particular those of color.
I didn’t want to specifically call that individual’s behavior out (though I did note that his presence didn’t deter the shooter) because I think that focuses on the wrong thing (and individual’s performance) versus the broader trend.
Even when an SRO confronted the shooter (as happened both yesterday and in Santa Fe 2018) they either were injured (yesterday) or arrived too late to stop the shooting but did prevent the shooter from committing suicide (Santa Fe).
Let’s just say, hypothetically, that cops in schools was the answer — even though even @Paul L. realizes that it isn’t.
How many police would need to be present at all times at each school to prevent these slaughters? Clearly, more than we have now. What would the cost be? Where does that money come from?
Since school districts and local and state governments are required to run a balanced budget, this is going to be a pretty big tax increase, which is going to make the Republicans balk. Plus it will require a pretty sizable portion of the population to be hanging around schools all day — at a time where there are already problems with the labor parcipitation rates which is affecting inflation.
Honestly, it’s probably more practical to start looking into child sized body armor. It’s a fixed cost, and can be purchased by the schools and then loaned out to the students when they enroll, and used the next year for the next class.
SRO’s, like everything else we talk about in this debate, seems to be about having these things be slightly less deadly. Maybe. That’s not good enough.
Cost apparently came up yesterday in Paxton’s press conference and he stated that the money wasn’t available to secure schools. Kids, just need to die for the availability of guns and low taxes.
More cops in the schools, better doors and other physical security, better detection and treatment of mental issues, arming teachers, gun free zones, violent movies and video games, etc. are all just distraction from what everyone knows is the real issue.
Why a sworn law enforcement officer? Why not armed private security w/o the authority to investigate or arrest students? “Here’s your office. Here’s the manual for the security monitors. Surf the web, read books, write your novel, code up something that monitors the video feeds for you. If anyone enters the grounds or building with a firearm, kill them.”
Don’t be an asshole. Different shooters have different motives — the thing that unites them is easy access to guns and a desire to kill.
@Hal_10000: “SRO’s, like everything else we talk about in this debate, seems to be about having these things be slightly less deadly. Maybe. That’s not good enough.”
Yeah, the response from Paxton or one of those vile Texas politicians was that we’ve got to “harden these sites.”
Because forcing kids to go to school in an armed encampment is far preferable to having some restrictions on gun ownership…
@Michael Cain: “If anyone enters the grounds or building with a firearm, kill them.”
What a brilliant idea! Because it’s not like anyone looking to murder children would ever be deceitful enough to do something sneaky like conceal their weapon. And surely any competent security guard can get up from his chair and run across an entire building in the five seconds or so it will take to eliminate an entire classroom of children with a semi-automatic rifle.
You’ve solved the problem!
This is all just more gun-fetish nonsense.
The shooter in Buffalo was stopped within minutes and yet still managed to murder 10 innocent people.
And everyone who repeats this ammo-sexual nonsense is, ipso facto, supportive of mass-murder.
In the case of yesterday, the mass murder of young children.
And there is blood on their hands.
On another note; if you get a chance check out Beto confronting TX Gov. Abbott.
Ok, ya’ll please STAY ON topic for the post. The goal here wasn’t to revisit the topic of gun control. That’s more than enough discussion of that going on in James’ original post here:
At this point we do no know for sure. Reports say that he and other police confronted the shooter after the shooter crashed his car. There have been reports that they traded fire with the individual. The reality is that this remains a rapidly evolving situation and there has already been a lot of misreporting. We probably won’t know what happened for at least few days (assuming video footage of the confrontation exists). So everyone, including random folks on Twitter are speculating.
Also, your bit of “White Supremacist” trolling wasn’t lost on us. Less of that, please.
The use of private security has grown as well. There is little evidence to demonstrate that they make schools any safer than SROs and in many cases, they are still detaining students until the police are called. This is a broader issue with turning schools into police camps.
I realize you’re making a different point, but I still objected to even entertaining this line of thinking because it still suggests that there is a *right* number to begin with.
These are simply two incontrovertible facts.
In addition to being factual, “totally predictable” is a direct response to Abbott pretending the event was “unpredictable.”
The fact that you’re looking for a “sick burn” is everything wrong with both your sports-team politics, specifically, and overall weak mental condition, in general.
Everyone…is this Paul guy really Jenos???
@Daryl and his brother Darryl:
Nope. As far as I can tell Paul L is and remains Paul L. Two totally different people.
And again, let’s stay off the speculation about folk’s identities or discussions about Beto’s comments and stay on the overall post topic. If you really need to discuss that press conference, I recommend the main post:
I will differ with you on one point, those same people don’t want the schools to arm me, they want the schools to arm the good, no-nonsense teachers who will know who to shoot.
Beyond that though, not wanting to arm me is still the wise choice. 😉
This guy Paul’s nonsense aside…
Beto seems to be attempting to do what Democrats need to do more of.
Get in their face and make it uncomfortable for them.
Like Mallory McMorrow did a few weeks ago.
Like Biden has been doing more and more.
Call Republicans out for their corruption and ignorance.
They are weak and they don’t like it.
Thanks for sharing that article. The larger excerpt poses more questions than answers:
I expect there is a lot more reporting on this in the days to come. Hopefull it will fill in many more details and clarify what happened.
Before anyone asks, I just checked the statute and it is illegal for a citizen to have a gun on a school campus in Texas–https://www.tasb.org/services/legal-services/tasb-school-law-esource/business/documents/firearms_on_dist_property.pdf–so why the shooter was allowed to breach the school in the first place is very much a mystery. It does point again to the fact that an SRO or “more police” clearly didn’t help make the school more secure in this situation.
@Just nutha ignint cracker:
A longer version of the post went into just arming the “good teachers” but I realized I was drifting off target and the entire thing is a nonsense point in the first place.
I don’t know about everyone else but I have many interactions with the public school system. My wife is an elementary school teacher and counselor and I volunteer regularly at her school. On top of putting through three kids of my own, being on the sports booster club board, PTA, etc.
Arming teachers or having more police on campus (can we not use the term SRO to hide their essential duties?) is not the answer. Mental health services is the answer. Even at the elementary level, students are identified as needing counseling and even medication. Services are available; however, in many cases, the homelife (parents, if they are present) undermines those services. Many parents are negligent, they refuse help, they forget prescriptions, they demand their rights and refuse responsibility. Parent and student rights are put above the rights of other students, teachers, and school.
There is a school to prison pipeline. The schools know it and fight to reduce it. It’s a daily battle and teachers celebrate the little victories. But they feel beat up and neglected. The indications at the end of this school year is that many will not come back. The job fairs being held are sparsely attended.
“Well as long as it’s only [people of color] getting affected…” 🙁
Police/security were on the scene yesterday. Cop presence in the New York subways has been increased. Security was on the scene in Buffalo, at Parkland, at Santa Fe. There was a whole miltary at Fort Hood. The Las Vegas concert had security. None of it made a difference.
More police/security in schools and stores won’t solve the problem. Good guys with guns won’t solve the problem. The problem is Republicans, the NRA, and the corporate gun lobby flooding our streets with guns and blocking meaningful reform.
The solution is to just stop votimg Republican. And to elect Democrats to places non gun nut judges, enact universal healthcare with robust mental health coverage, and pass universal background checks, gun liability insurance and training requirements, and an assault weapons ban. I mean, that’s it and that’s all.
Want to reduce crime and mass murder? Stop voting Republican. Everything else is noise.
If each child is escorted by a fully armed, always-alert Navy Seal (who is emotionally balanced, and not a child predator), then we would definitely reduce the the number of school shootings (people would go after softer targets), and lessen the impact of those that do occur.
So, there is some number that would be “the right” number.
It would cause other problems, and cost a fortune, and this wouldn’t be America anymore, but my lizard/pedantic/engineer brain cannot help but latch onto it.
Even scaling down to a Seal in every classroom, and assuming a 50% inattentiveness rate (perks up at the sound of gunfire, but fails to notice the approach because they’re busy learning fractions) would have an effect.
We know that a few poorly trained SROs who take the job as a cushy gig assuming that it won’t happen on their watch is ineffective, and causes a lot of problems. Doubling them is likely to have only a marginal positive impact, and likely more negative.
I want the people who are proposing more guns in schools to flush out their idiotic proposals so they aren’t just an off-the-cuff simplistic solution that sounds nice to a certain type of simplistic person.
Because as much as you say more armed guards isn’t the answer, it’s pretty much going to be the answer favored by the right, with the weird exception of our friend Paul L. It needs a “how much is enough” as much as a “can we deal with the consequences”.
FWIW, Paul L has for as long as I remember generally been very skeptical of police and prosecutors.
@Matt Bernius:..Paul L has for as long as I remember generally been very skeptical of police and prosecutors.
Then I can only speculate that he is in favor of vigilantes and insurrectionists and lynchings.
Paul Krugman wrote today that there are 130k schools and 50k grocery stores in the US today, so providing one guard at each with the training and equipment needed to defeat a gunman in body armour would require a group to be larger than the current Marine Corps. Even this estimate seems light as many of these facilities have more than one door, and most grocery stores are open 16 or so hours a day 7 days a week.
And of course even if this works as long as the guns are still around then the gunmen move on to day cares and malls.
Late to the conversation, but after Sandy Hook, our local school district (three schools, elementary, junior and high school, roughly 500 students between all three) underwent extensive remodeling. All public-facing entrances now have a lobby where all visitors have to be buzzed in during school hours, and all of the lobbies are thick walls and bulletproof glass, with roll-down metal sheets behind the glass. It was expensive, and not all school districts are going to be able to do this, but this is the direction we’re heading. It would’ve stopped the murderer yesterday.
It won’t stop a known student who sneaks a weapon in in a backpack. Neither will the one resource officer who’s supposed to cover all three schools.
We all know what the answer to this problem is. We also know that the problem won’t be fixed, because it’s not “our kids” dying, with “our kids” having the value of the children of the people who make, and change, the rules. Back when Sandy Hook happened, Cracker said that now that “our kids” had been shot, if the rules were ever going to change, they’d start changing. Sorry, it’s going to take the mass shooting of children of Congress/Senatorial critters (preferably a large number of them in a safe location like their private schools). Like other times, when it’s their children dying, it’s important. Otherwise, it’s just numbers and serfs, not “people.”
We are uniquely cursed with regular mass shootings. Why?
In any other 1st world country this would have prompted severe soul searching and decisive legislative action. We do the doomed cycle of talking about legislation that will not ever happen. Tightened background checks get shitcanned by bought and partisan sociopaths.
I kinda of want to leave to foreign shores. I think the rot is endemic and getting worse. I want no part of it. The inability to change anything legislativly given our representation and the fetishization of guns. It overwhelms me. It nauseates me. I want out. I would like a month or so when there were no mass murders of school children by a moron with a gun.
I do not see a way out of our dilemma. The right thinks the best solution is more guns. That makes me want to vomit.
Apologies in advance for a late, and lengthy, response. I’ve been stewing on this one for a while.
Paul, as others have said, don’t be an asshole. Acknowledging that I’m an a-hole myself (since I’m at the age where I don’t have a filter, or the willingness to buy one), I have the following for you. Consider it or not, ponder it or not, acknowledge it or not. All your choice.
With regards to SRO/Police or whatever emotionally loaded or unloaded name you use, as Matt mentions, study after study indicate that they do nothing to keep children safe, they merely act as a fig leaf providing a modicum of “well, we’ve done what we could” without actually doing something.
Based on my experience, it takes a special kind of person to be able to face an armed individual. That ramps up exponentially if they’re acting irrationally. That in turn goes up logarithmically unless you have trained long and hard in this particular call/response.
As the saying goes, “Been there, done that. Got the hat, coat, and t-shirt.”
Unless you’ve faced a crazy with a weapon (any weapon), you don’t get to argue woulda/coulda/shoulda. Well, you get to, because it’s a free country, but you’re wrong and you should know it.
Come back and talk with me about this when you wake up at night replaying a live-fire incident. For years. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Would I like to have seen SRO/LEO on site act and save lives? Of course. Would I wish for a different outcome? Of course. But they didn’t. We can’t change that, only change behaviors/conditions going forward.
Matt, thanks again for the timely and appropriate reminder of what’s real and important.
Late to the conversation as per usual, but my thinking has gone to why so many regular folks believe so strongly in their need to have guns. I’m not thinking about the rabid collectors, but the family down the street that has a gun for “protection”. I think is has to do with pursuing a source of available power that is denied economically, socially, educationally, etc. When people feel they have no relevant power or control, a gun might seem like a source of great power. Of course, having a gun at home increases the odds of gun injury many fold, but this isn’t about logic. I think the people arguing for arming teachers or putting in more armed security fall into this same fallacy.
In the mean time, it’s crushing to read the various messages sent from DutchKiddo’s school about these events.
My preferred solution is to introduce a bill. Let’s call it the “Well-Regulated Militia Act.” Its provisions include direct quotes from the 2nd Amendment, and it defines: 1) What is and is not a legitimate militia; 2) what types of weapons are reserved for members of well-regulated militias; 3) precise definition (insofar as possible) of weapons private citizens are permitted to keep in their own domiciles; 4) clear language under what conditions private citizens may “bear” arms.
@Paul L.: You might find the results not to your liking. The vast majority of the American public repeatedly polls as heavily in favor of reasonable gun laws.
Matt, this is a typically good post of yours and I’m materially in agreement with it. I do have one question about this:
How would we go about proving that the causality doesn’t go in the opposite direction, i.e. that more juvenile criminals in a school doesn’t make it more likely that the school will have an SRO?
Great question. There is definitely the threat of a tautology here. I think this is where the Florida research about the impact of increasing the number of SROs post-Stoneman Douglas corresponds to more arrests while at the same time overall arrests rates for juveniles were going down. This was a case where a State policy created a bright line that we can look at before and after.
Granted there is an argument that those “crimes” were always happening but not being observed. My sense is that we need to unpack a few things–for example, what are the arrests happening for and would these previously be handled in a different way (without law enforcement and criminalizing behavior). For example, if there is a fight on school grounds is someone being charged with assault when previously they would not be. Or how many of the charges are essentially for “resisting arrest?” (which is notoriously broadly defined).
Also it’s fair to ask what are the social costs of the crimes that were previously being underreported (and were theoretically not previously classified as crimes in the past).
Does that make sense?
Also @Dave Schuler I think this WaPo article does a good job of unpacking the Florida case:
Some of the stats from the report:
Either these schools were all hellscapes prior to police entering them or the presence of police somehow contributed to the following issues (for example my expectation is that in many, if not the majority. of those “physical restraint” cases, there was an initial charge of resisting arrest).