School to Prison Pipeline: What Effect are School Cops having on Students?

Chicago Police And Neighborhood Officials Escort Children To School

What came first, the chicken or the egg? In this age-old saying, the question implies that there cannot be a chicken, without having been hatched in an egg first. But there also cannot be an egg, without a chicken laying it.  The same question can be applied to school cops. Which came first, school cops or school violence? It can be argued that school cops are a response to student violence. However, it can also be argued that student violence is a result of school cop presence. This debate is a very controversial issue at the moment and is extremely relevant to our schools today.

One of the earliest records of a school shooting took place in the 1760’s in Pennsylvania. A group of four Native Americans shot their teacher and 9 other classmates in their small schoolhouse. Only 3 children survived. Fast forward nearly a century without any recorded school shootings. In the 19th century, there were around 50 school shootings. From 1900-1980, there were around 130 school shootings. However, during the 1980’s, Zero Tolerance policies were applied to student’s behavior after heightened concern over youth violence. The “school safety” division of many large cities police departments began to grow, creating a criminalization of student conduct. Since 1980-2014, there have been around 230 school shootings. This number has almost doubled from 130 shootings, but in less than half the time.

Born and raised in NYC, and having gone to public school all my life, I had some interactions with school cops, however very little. Majority of my experiences had been friendly. We knew all of the cops by name, and spent most of the time chatting about the weekend plans and if they would be at the sports game that evening. Therefore I was surprised to learn that in fact, NYPD had taken over public school security in 1998. They have 5,000 officers in the NYPD’s “School Safety Division”, which is larger than all but three other cities’ entire police forces. In 2012, 95% of the 882 arrests made by the NYPD School Safety Division were Black or Latin@ students. In addition, 63% of the summonses were for “disorderly conduct”, a vague term to describe someone with the intent to cause public annoyance or recklessly creating a risk.

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  1. ” School cops act as an alternative to the other much needed social services, which do not receive enough government funding.”
    Very true. There is a significant amount of research out there that discusses the criminalization of black children (esp. black boys) in school. Lots of people make the argument that subconscious bias informs the mostly white, female teachers (most teachers in the US are white females) and that’s why so many black children are suspended or expelled due to “disciplinary problems.” Lots of children, they say, are just bored. One reason they may “act out” is because they are not connecting with the material being taught. But that’s too complex to address. Change one-size-fits-all education? Make education culturally-relevant? Embrace different forms of learning? Noooo.

    In the wake of all that’s happened during the past few weeks, I’m feeling more and more that a good amount of people believe black youth (particularly males) are a “lost cause”–and I think that at least subconsciously, some believe it’s due to some “innate” difference. Sometimes I get really overwhelmed thinking about all the work that needs to be done. But I think a good starting point is education. Some important reforms would be to:
    -Hire more teachers of color
    -Test faculty for subconscious racial bias (not to fire them, but to train them to recognize and correct their bias)
    -Make the curriculum more culturally relevant (mandatory Af-Am, Latin studies, history, culture)
    -Concentrated attempts to improve self-esteem
    -Adopt different learning styles to fit the diverse student population
    -Empathy…geez, that 95% you mentioned is crazy!

    Obviously, a serious overhaul needs to take place, but I think these are some of the important changes that have to happen to close that pipeline.


  2. Amanda Hill

     /  September 6, 2014

    I believe that a police force within a school can create an authoritarian and hostile environment. However, the idea of having trained individuals to advocate and discipline students could benefit our schools immensely. If schools are going to continue to institute police forces, the system must be overhauled.

    There should be no special treatment. If we are going to have cops in one school; they must be in every school. This new force of school police officers should be a separate fraction of our police departments. As most schools lack social services, these individuals would be trained social workers. This new force could then begin to tackle the social issues that plague some of our schools. They would be trained to recognize troubled students and begin to help them rather than relying on incarceration.

    It is important to realize when we discuss such topics such as the school-to-prison pipeline that we acknowledge the origin of this pipeline. The origin of the pipeline can be rooted in students’ home and social lives. These issue range from low-self esteem to the perceived lack of future options. If we have trained professionals willing to help mitigate these problems before they start, we might be able to make progress in closing the pipeline.

    It appears to be glaringly obvious, that other issues stem directly from the education system itself. Uneducated and unemployed individuals are much more likely to commit crimes, and a prison record makes it much more difficult to obtain employment. This vicious cycle of school-to-prison-to-unemployment-to-prison must be stopped. What we need are better teachers and role models who can help our students become excited about learning and help them hit their academic milestones.


  3. Alexandria Bellivan

     /  September 7, 2014

    I work with disconnected youth in the heart of Bushwick, and I’ve spoken to plenty of youth who have had their experiences with cops. From what I have observed most of the time my youth are unfortunately victims of racial profiling, and overtime the presence of public authority in the community raises their aggression but as a defensive mechanism that has developed throughout the community on its own. So the question still remains: What came first? The chicken or the egg? School violence increased with or without cops?

    Honestly, school violence might not even be the reason why NYC security has heightened in the schools… It could be due to other violence in the surrounding communities, and concerned parents pushing the schools to instill higher security. However, I do believe that the presence of public authority causes an uncomfortable stir in youth that is not necessary. That isn’t something that should be displayed in a school setting unless the school’s history has proven otherwise. Youth should be coming to school with thoughts of learning, seeing their friends to be social etc. but all of that kind of goes out the window when the first thing you see is a cop. I know if I had that in MY school my stress levels would be go through the roof.


  4. Crystal Dow

     /  October 1, 2014

    I would love to believe that the major reason school cops are so prevalent in NYC is to protect children from potential harm outside the school building. Unfortunately from my experience working in a NYC public school for the past 5 years has proven otherwise. Echoing the thoughts of the previous comments posted, the school cops are there more so to “save them from themselves”. Schools are little societies in their own right and the placements of the school cops signify an unwelcomed intrusion. I cant help to think that if the school cops were truly integrated into the school’s society possibly by reaching out to the students, getting up from behind that desk every once in a while, or actually showing interest in what is happening in the school before it escalates into something huge, could really make strides for easing the overall feeling of tension in schools while making them a safer and more harmonious place for students.


  5. Orlando

     /  October 8, 2014

    Of course school cops came first; they always come first until the moment when you actually need them.

    These school cops are being placed at what kind of schools? Majority Black and Latino schools. Why? To continue to criminalize our community’s youth. Now, one could argue that these types of schools are in the less affluent, high-crime neighborhoods which generally are inhabited by Blacks and Latinos but these areas are not only where crimes exist. So why aren’t there any cops at these affluent schools, even if they are there for “protection”

    I went to a predominately white high school, a real Beverly Hills 90210 type of high school. In my schools kids where selling hard drugs such as meth an cocaine, teachers were sleeping with students, and drag racing was a regular hobby. We had no police officers but had the most trouble in the entire county. The cops came in one year and did a random search and found over 16 students in the entire high school with drugs and only three people got in serious trouble. Two out of the three where Black and/or Latin@.

    Also, I feel like cops in elementary schools are doing nothing but preparing kids to grow up getting used to the idea of being monitored and reprimanded by the police.


  6. Tiffany Kipps

     /  November 19, 2014

    I’m on the fence with this blog post. I do see a need for police in public schools. They can be powerful forces in situations like Sandy Hook. However I have also seen how the police can pollute the learning atmosphere within a public school. As the blog post states “holding children captive and subjecting them to monitoring, asinine rules, zero tolerance and invasion of privacy” will not solve the violence within schools. I agree with the article and the reference to counselors in public schools. I believe that the board of education should employ more counselors to schools with high violence rates, but I also think the board should put more arts education programs in these schools. I believe that arts education programs can be an outlet for youth struggling to find their place in society.


  7. School to Prison Pipeline: What Effect is School Cops having on Students?
    Ok: time to take a reality check, life has always had some very questionable people making the need for police power to be present. Correct the environment that caused the questionable people to feel the need to act out in a disturbing way in the school setting and the police can go back to Wall Street where the real crime is taking place in society.
    Besides the political arena where our elected officials create the living environment that has some school age kids needing the police presence in order to feel safe enough to learn the little relevant information taught in these types of schools. With fiscal budgets being cut to shreds under the smaller government mandates of many gerrymander congressional districts.
    Then you have the neighborhoods that this targeted group wakes up in each day, which is impoverished and purposely lawless in most cases. It’s hard to blame the egg for the chicken who laid it: but I guess it is easier than trying to pitch in and help create a cure to the situation. “Research has shown that a lack of consciousness about the cultures of students and families of color can lead educators to unintentionally lower their expectations.” (Time to act closing the racial achievement gap: Policy Brief – page 3/5)
    So this is not an accident that the school budgets is used for police instead of a better learning environment where these same targeted students would welcome a break from the daily chaos and mayhem found in their neighborhood living conditions!
    Jails need occupants too or else the powers to be would have to be blamed for building under underutilized facilities as a way to solve the upstate unemployment conditions!



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