When President Donald Trump held a listening session with survivors of gun violence, their family members and the parents of murdered students on Wednesday, much of the discussion focused on ways to enhance school security. The president recommended arming teachers, while one parent suggested that undercover police officers pose as teachers and school staff. Several parents called for more security officers at schools.
There’s scant evidence that more cops and security guards on campus actually stop school shootings. There’s an abundance of evidence suggesting that more school security means more vulnerable students getting funneled at an early age into the criminal justice system.
Black children are already more likely to get arrested at school. In 2012, black children represented only 16 percent of school-aged children, but 31 percent of those arrested.
And when more cops are in school, these arrests are more likely to take place, even for minor misbehaviors. It’s a phenomenon that advocates call the school-to-prison pipeline.
“The more we add security or police forces and so on to schools, the more likely it is the students who are already at risk of being seen as potential trouble makers get swept up into the justice system or suspended and pushed out of schools,” said Aaron Kupchik, a professor at the University of Delaware, who studies this issue. “The risks are even higher for students who are already more vulnerable.”
“We’re worried this continues to be the knee-jerk reaction that politicians have after a school shooting -– to not deal with the gun violence issue but instead to throw more money at law enforcement.”
There have been scattered instances in which school security has helped foil an armed intruder. And some studies have found clear benefits of having cops in schools, as these schools are more likely to have emergency crisis plans in place and receive regular safety inspections. But these benefits come at a steep price ― one that could disproportionately impact black and brown students who are already more likely to face overly harsh discipline.
One study found that schools with police are more likely to refer students to outside law enforcement for a range of behaviors ― including offenses that are more minor, like vandalism. Another study found that schools with cops had more school arrests for minor misbehaviors like disorderly conduct.
And there is also the possibility of police brutality. A HuffPost investigation previously found schools with cops had officers that used Tasers over 80 times on children between 2011 and 2016.
The instinct to increase school security after shootings makes sense University of Florida professor Jason Nance previously told HuffPost. Adding measures of security is a “tangible” action that “school authorities can do to demonstrate to a worried constituency that they are trying to make schools safer.”
“However, so far we don’t have any hard evidence that more police officers in schools make schools safer,” said Nance.
Judith Browne Dianis is the executive director of The Advancement Project, a civil rights group that works to curb the school-to-prison pipeline. She said enhanced security measures at schools can make buildings look more like war zones and prisons than nurturing environments.
“We’re worried this continues to be the knee-jerk reaction that politicians have after a school shooting -– to not deal with the gun violence issue but instead to throw more money at law enforcement giving parents the perception of safety, instead of getting at the root cause of the violence,” Dianis said.