For those of us who come from public primary schools, the presence of police officers on campus is a familiar sight. Forty-three percent of public primary schools in 2015 had security staff — a statistic that only rises once students transition out of high school. Ninety-two percent of public colleges and universities had sworn and armed officers on campus.
Today, approximately 79 percent of schools in North Carolina have school resource officers on at least a rotating basis.
While the public’s image of a perfectly safe college campus isn’t complete without such school resource officers, known as SROs, the detriments of policing in learning spaces far outweigh these perceived benefits.
Starting in our primary schools, SROs are disproportionately placed in majority non-white schools. Once on school grounds, these officers take charge of instances that would otherwise be handled through disciplinary action at the hands of school administrators — for example, carrying out internal dispute mediation, personal and property searches and safety plans.
However, this has catastrophic effects on academic outcomes. Studies have shown that having SROs in educational institutions exaggerates minor infractions to the point that they are treated as criminal offenses. This increases the likelihood that students will end up in the juvenile justice system — and potentially, adult prisons.
Called the school-to-prison pipeline, students with court records in their adolescence are far more likely to drop out or end up in the juvenile criminal justice system. And the effects of this trend are cyclical.
Then, at the collegiate level, there is a long history of SROs using unjust force against students – especially student protestors.
UNC is not immune to this. In the wake of Silent Sam’s removal from campus, students argued that there was excessive use of force and brutality by UNC police in response to protests against the Confederate statue’s presence.
Between disparities in the placement of SROs, combined with a long history of brutality against student protestors, the role of officers in student spaces should be called into question. And the solution is clear — dismantling policing from our learning institutions.
CBS News reported on a Louisiana high school faced with 23 student arrests as a result of fights breaking out on campus. The solution — regarded for its unorthodoxy — came from a group of fathers who committed time to hanging around the halls and uplifting students.
Not a single incident of violence has been reported since the formation of this group.
This approach of relying on the community is ultimately rooted in abolitionist principles — a set of goals that work to dismantle the prison industrial complex as it unjustly targets low income communities and communities of color.
Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools voted on an interim agreement to bring SROs back into secondary schools, but with school board elections around the corner and the role of law enforcement in schools up for vote again in March, it is increasingly important to detangle police from our schools and create safer, more welcoming environments for students of all ages.
These goals are expansive, but the diminishing role of SROs in our schools is one tiny look into how community togetherness can pursue abolitionist goals and produce better outcomes for all students. The name of the game is fostering networks of support, mutual aid and a sense of community that allow campuses to thrive without police presence.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.