Coalition Says Armed Police in Schools Wrong Answer for Stopping Gun Violence
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 11, 2013
Rich Robinson, Advancement Project
Leaders in Civil Rights, Education and Law Enforcement Voice Concern, Urge White House to Reject Initiatives Placing Armed Police in Schools
(WASHINGTON) - In the weeks following the tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut, a number of advocates, including members of Congress and the National Rifle Association, have called for armed guards and/or police officers in public schools. As Vice President Joe Biden's task force on gun violence develops policy recommendations in response to the attack and gun violence more generally, a coalition of civil rights organizations, law enforcement and education officials are cautioning the White House against embracing proposals to put armed guards and police in schools.
"School safety is absolutely our highest priority," said Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis. "It's important to note that police in schools do not necessarily increase safety, nor do they catch early indicators of mental health needs, identify root and underlying causes of violence, or use the resources of law enforcement in an effective way," Browne Dianis added. "Instead of addressing infrequent, serious threats to safety, police in schools often respond to minor student misbehavior by handcuffing, arresting and criminalizing the young people they were intended to protect."
"Consider the unfortunate school shooting in California yesterday," said Mustafa Sullivan, National Campaign Coordinator for the Alliance for Educational Justice. "What stopped the shooting was a teacher who cultivated a deep personal relationship with her students, not a gun. Rather than responding to the tragic events in California and Newtown with policies that lead to greater punishment of young people, we should carefully and thoughtfully map a plan to keep our children safe while ensuring schools remain conducive to learning."
Coalition members include the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Advancement Project, Dignity in Schools Campaign, the Alliance for Educational Justice, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and others - oppose the approach. Today, the groups released a white paper outlining the problems already experienced by stationing police and armed guards in schools, and offering alternative recommendations.
"Enhanced police presence in schools is not a panacea for preventing the violence we saw in Newton, Connecticut," said Damon Hewitt, Director of Education Practice Group for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. "Adding police and armed security to schools often means normal student behavior is criminalized. The negative consequences of enhanced police activity is felt most sharply in schools with large numbers of African-American and poor children."
Findings from the coalition's white paper include:
- The increased police presence in schools has led to a dramatic increase in school-based student arrests, particularly youth of color. During the 2011-2012 school year alone, the state of Florida reported 13,870 student arrests and referrals to law enforcement.
- The majority of student arrests are for discretionary offenses such as disruption, disorderly conduct, and minor school fights.
- Schools are considered the safest places for young people. Most youth victims of violent crime take place outside of school, with less than 2% of all youth homicides occurring in schools. Police must concentrate their resources on preventing and responding to crime where it is happening.
- The effects of contact with the juvenile justice system can be severe and long-lasting for young people, following them when applying for college, the military or a job.
"Armed guards cause many students to feel unsafe and unwelcome in their own school," said Tanisha Denard, a youth leader with the Youth Justice Coalition, a member of the Dignity in Schools Campaign. "Police are trained to stop and prevent crime on the streets, not to mediate problems that may come up between young people in a school. School is a place for learning. It shouldn't be an introduction or pathway to the criminal justice system."