Since the turn of the century, school grounds are no longer considered safe for the faculty and students that present themselves every day. Schools have now become home to bullying, physical altercations, and most importantly shootings. In 1991, the United States Department of Education helped establish the idea of having law enforcement on school grounds as a form of reinstalling a sense of security. These officials are known as School Resource Officers (SRO) and as of 2015, they are actively working in approximately 43% of all public schools in the country. Aside from their primary position, they are also coaches, mentors, and threats. Almost three decades of their appearance, debate has risen among parents and school officials as to whether these law advocates should continue their active role in schools. Kentucky, South Carolina and Maryland are three cases that have sparked outrage across the country and have led to law suits against these SRO personnel. Handcuffing disabled third graders, tossing a 16-year old female student across the room, and slapping/kicking a 16-year old male student are illustrations of the three incidents. With more cases on the rise, the purpose of the school resource officers has taken a turn for the worst. Continuing this notion of problem solving, society has established a new threat to school environments by ignoring and accepting the failure of this system.
Acts of hate whether physical or verbal, have always existed within school atmospheres; tracing back before schools were unsegregated. In the spring of 1999, just before the turn of the century, America witnessed the worst in-school shooting at the time. Two students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, killed 13 and wounded 20 others before killing themselves. This event ignited the now growing criminal trend and school resource officers are trying to reverse this aftermath. A recent study conducted by Everytown indicated that there have been 220 school shootings from 2013 to 2017; roughly one shooting a week. Verbal and physical abuse are no longer a concern to schools, its more about putting an end to shooting attacks. Former President, Barack Obama, invested $150 million to help place SRO’s and counselors in schools after the 2012 shooting in Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 26 children and faculty were killed. Along with ¬the purpose, the intentions of this officials is also to help remove the negative stigma that has been brought upon the police force: viewing them as enemies.
The role of a School Resource Officer is broken down into three duties: teacher, counselor and law enforcer. Ideally, they engage students in a more personal level; trying to understand their actions and emotions in a way to prevent possible acts of aggression. There are currently over 80,000 SROs working in schools throughout the country. They normally step into a situation if a school faculty believes the incident has risen to a criminal level, leading to an arrest. Parents and students have been concerned about the protocol, concluding that school faculty abuse the authority of an SOR to avoid talking with the student(s). As of 2015, there has not been a report as to whether the installment of these figures is successful in decimalizing schools. Disputes have augmented, considering that the system could in fact be a waste of resource and a gamble to student health.
Case 1: Covington, Kentucky
In the summer of 2014, Kevin Sumner, a school resource officer and former school teacher, was called into the principal’s office after a student acted out. S.R., the 8-year old boy, was questioned by sheriff Sumner about his actions in class but the boy began to twiddle again. Sumner restrained the child, handcuffing him by the biceps and not the wrist because they were too small. (exhibit A) The sheriff stated that the boy was trying to kick and punch him which. In August 2015, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a law suit against Kevin Sumner on two accounts: Handcuffing S.R. & handcuffing twice L.G., a 9-year old girl. The ACLU released a cell phone video of the incident with the boy. Within the video you clearly hear the child crying in pain and saying “Oh God, It Hurts.” (exhibit B) The ACLU indicated that the boy was handcuffed for 15 minutes and the girl had to be taken to the hospital for mental suffrage. Both two students suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Restraining these two children was completely unnecessary and out of line. There was no need to call upon an officer to handle a situation that teachers could have handled completely. Sumner now faces charges for endangering children, violating Kentucky law prohibiting restraint of students, and violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Latonia Elementary School – Covington, Kentucky
Case 2: Columbia, South Carolina
October 2015, 16-year old Shakara was violently dragged and thrown across the room by deputy Ben Fields. The incident began when the teacher caught Shakara using her cell phone and was then ordered to leave. After ignoring the demands, the teacher called upon SOR Fields to have her remove from the classroom. After his arrival, Shakara had put her cell phone away but was still asked to leave the room by Fields. Further refusal, the SOR forcibly tried to remove her from her desk, wrapping his arm around her neck and then tipped the desk backwards. (exhibit C) After she was on the ground, he then grabbed her arm and leg dragged/tossed her across the floor. (exhibit D) Fields then put her in handcuffs and had escorted her out of the room.
The FBI and the Department of Justice had investigated over the matter after the video went viral. Within 48 hours, Officer Ben Fields was fired from Richland County. Sheriff Leon Lott said “I wanted to throw up and there was no justification for his actions.” Lawsuits were handed down to both parties. Fields charge is for violating the girls civil right and his aggressive actions. Shakara, along with her classmate Niya who recorded the incident, face the possibility of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine for disrupting the classroom. In the aftermath of the incident, Shakara had a cast on her arm, bruising to her neck and shoulder, and carpet burn on her head.
Spring Valley High School – Columbia, South Carolina
Case 3: Baltimore, Maryland
In March 1st, 2016, two Baltimore school officers were brought under investigation for a viral video of a student being assaulted on the steps of REACH Partnership School. The unidentified student was reportedly trespassing school grounds when approached by the school officers. Anthony Spence and Saverna Bias were the on-duty officials. Through investigation, the incident turned violent after the SORs’ questioned the student. Bias stated to the other officer “You need to smack him because he’s got too much mouth.” Spence proceeded with the demand, slapping the student three times in the face and kicking him in the ribs as he was going down a set of steps. (Exhibit E + F)
The following day after the video had surfaced both officers were placed on administrative leave. The Baltimore Police School Police Department, had ordered an arrest for both officers. Anthony Spence was charged with second-degree child abuse, second-degree assault and misconduct in office. While Saverna Bias was charged with second-degree assault and misconduct in office for ordering the assault and being a bystander. Both officers were involved in previous assault incidents that had terminated their positions and brought to question their positions in school environments. The lawyer for the unidentified student spoke of his injuries, stating that he had swelling/bruising on his face and bone bruising on his ribs.
Reach Partnership School – Baltimore, Maryland
The rise of these cases in school environments has heavily questioned the success of this problem-solving tactic. These three incidents are clear illustrations that school resource officers add more fuel to problems that are considered minor and abuse their authority. When dealing with students, faculty and officers must realize that the confrontation is with children and teenagers. Their intellectual thinking is nowhere near close to an adult’s and decisions will be made where disobedience will occur. Their actions do not call for being treated like true lawbreakers or animals. The purpose of having these school officials in schools is to erase the current stigma but it is making it worse. A news report agency refers the relationship between schools and law enforcement as “School-to-Prison Pipeline.” Since students are being arrested and charged with school crimes, they begin to develop a criminal record which will most hurt their chances of being successful in the future. Ideally, teachers are becoming too dependent on school resource officers. A simple refusal turns into a violent matter that puts young children in danger and it falls back on the teachers for not wanting to handle the situation.
The idea of having school resource officers was to ensure the safety of students from any threat that may be. Sadly, over past couple of years, videos have emerge showing the true picture of these officials. Their authority has now become a new threat to students. Fidgeting, cell phone use, and standing on school grounds somehow have become a criminal violation and threat to safety in the eyes of SORs. Unnecessary force is being used upon students for simply acting like normal underage people. Society cannot keep hiding behind the power of an officer. They once stood for a purpose but now have turned their backs. The system has jeopardized the future of schools and students by becoming the modern-day threat.