Research: Are students really safer with cops in schools?

In schools with a police presence, arrest rates more than doubled compared to buildings without law enforcement on campus, a new report declares.

In the past several years, school safety has only risen higher on superintendents’ list of priorities. Last year alone, there were a record 348 school shooting incidents, the K12 School Shooting Database reports. As a result, it’s no surprise that schools are again turning to police for help. Is it paying off?

In schools with a police presence, arrest rates more than doubled compared to those without one, new research from the U.S. Government Accountability Office declares.

Similar outcomes were found when the researchers accounted for race. Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, Black and American Indian/Alaska Native students were arrested at rates two to three times higher than those of white students. The data reflects Department of Education data from the 2017-18 school year, the most recent available data.

“Our analysis and Education’s own guidance recognize that students can experience even greater adverse consequences as their race, gender, and disability statuses overlap,” the report reads.

The report also references recent investigations by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights surrounding disparities in disciplinary practices in several school districts. Most recently, an investigation concluded that the Pasco County School District in Florida engaged in “disability discrimination” under federal law. The Justice Department stated that “the district routinely relied on suspensions and referrals to law enforcement to respond to students’ disability-related behaviors that it could have addressed through proper behavioral interventions and support.”

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In light of these findings, the GAO offers three recommendations for the Department of Education, including:

  • Collecting arrest and referral data, by race, for students with disabilities who receive services under Section 504.
  • Disclosing the limitations of its 2021-22 arrest data. This includes confirming and disclosing which definitions K12 districts used or specifying that arrest data for that year is not comparable among districts.
  • Clearly informing school districts about future changes to arrest and referral data in its civil rights data collection.

“Education’s civil rights data are a critical tool for helping OCR, policymakers, researchers, schools, parents and key stakeholders understand and address potential disparities in arrest and referral rates among various groups of students,” the report concludes.

Micah Ward
Micah Ward
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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