Police Chief Says Over-Policing Contributes To High Dropout Rate

A man being arrested
A man being arrested

A police chief in Texas said he believes his colleagues contribute to increased high school dropout rates and reinforce the school-to-prison pipeline when they, rather than school administrators, discipline students for misbehaving.

"There was a correlation between an increase and proliferation of police forces in these school districts and the dropout rate," Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo told Time Warner Cable News last week.

The school-to-prison pipeline refers to a system in which students who could benefit from more care and education are frequently heavily disciplined and dismissed from school, which often leads to them spending time in juvenile detention centers or jail.

Until fall 2013, school police officers in Texas could charge students with Class C misdemeanors and issue citations, or student tickets, for behavior like chewing gum in class, the Texas Tribune reported. Now these officers are not allowed to issue tickets for noncriminal activities.

"We shouldn’t be taking adolescent behavior and criminalizing it," Acevedo told The Huffington Post Tuesday. Over the years, Acevedo said, police officers have "taken the place of what’s traditionally been administrators' duties."

In the 2013-14 school year -- the first year that police could not issue student tickets -- disciplinary write-ups for skipping class were down by nearly a quarter as compared the year before, the Houston Chronicle reported. Austin had a "banner year in terms of the graduation" last year, Acevedo told HuffPost.

"I’m convinced if we as a society followed that mindset and returned to the day that police officers are only there for safety ... we’re gonna have a positive impact," he said.

"It's not just good enough for Austin to do this," Acevedo added, noting that all school districts should have a conversation about reforming their discipline policies. He said that there is a high dropout rate among students of color, and "part of that is the fact that we’re treating adolescent behavior in too many inner-city schools as criminal behavior."

In Texas, truancy is a criminal offense. The combination of that and the proliferation of school ticketing "did drive a large number of students into the court system,” Matt Simpson, senior policy strategist at the ACLU of Texas, told HuffPost. Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht asked for an examination of the state's criminal truancy laws last week.

"Students that have any contact with the court system very often return to the court system," Simpson said. The ACLU lists "policing school hallways" as a step in the school-to-prison pipeline.

School police officers should not be discipling students, said Kevin Quinn, president of the Arizona School Resource Officers Association and former president of the National Association of School Resource Officers, a nonprofit organization that trains and provides resources for administrators and law enforcement officials on campuses.

"There's a definite difference between what [a school resource officer] should be doing on campus and what’s left to an administrator," Quinn told HuffPost. "We tell [school resource officers] that from the beginning: 'You’re not a disciplinarian and you’re not there to enforce school policy.'"

Instead, school police officers across the country should have three duties, Quinn said. The first is to serve in case of violence or actual criminal activity on campus. The second is to go to classrooms to teach and answer questions about the law. The third is to regularly interact with students as positive mentors and trustworthy figures.

"Police should be there as mentors, as teachers, and to maintain the safety of the faculty and the staff -- not to take the place of what should be handled administratively as discipline and not criminal conduct," Acevedo said.



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