February 18, 2019 – Last year, the Piedmont Police Department received a three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Justice intended for tobacco-use prevention. Now, the PPD is jointly taking steps with Piedmont Unified to use these funds to hire an armed police officer, euphemistically referred to as a School Resource Officer (SRO). While vaping, cannabis, and alcohol usage is a cause for deep concern, we believe issuing an armed officer is the wrong way to address these issues.
Having an armed school officer can lead to unintended consequences including increased arrests for behavior ordinarily not considered criminal. Data shows this is especially true for children of color, with learning disabilities and/or special needs. Think about it: Do you want your child’s mistake to potentially result in an arrest? To underscore this point, consider a recent article in The Atlantic magazine, “Education Under Arrest: The Case Against Police in Schools,” (December 2018) which concludes that “placing SROs and other police in educational institutions exaggerates how school misbehavior, much of it involving minor infractions, is interpreted—to the extent that such activities can be treated as criminal offenses.” When an SRO is on campus, the likelihood of arrests on campus increased by 100% according to a 2009 Journal of Criminal Justice report.
Campus police can also undermine trust, negatively affect school culture, and can lead to unnecessary physical harm, such as in the 2016 Nevada case where a 14-year-old was shot after defending himself against upperclassmen. To put the issue into more perspective on a local level, the Oakland Unified School District’s own police department does not have a single armed officer stationed on any of its school campuses.
As a forward-thinking district shaping tomorrow’s leaders today, is criminalizing and potentially harming our children the best we can offer them?
If a less explicit goal of issuing an officer on campus is to increase student safety, an armed officer is still not the answer. Despite the horrifying fact of school shootings, children are safer in school than in almost any other place. The Washington Post’s “Putting More Cops in Schools Won’t Make Schools Safer, and It Will Likely Inflict a Lot of Harm” (February 2018) and other published reports/articles make this clear. (See a link to more resources at the end of this article.)
A better way to preserve student safety is for community stakeholders (parents, students, and staff) to work together to build a positive school climate that “minimizes police intervention and emphasizes positive, preventive approaches,” as the Children’s Defense Fund recommends. By opposing a campus cop, we have an opportunity to create an inclusive and supportive approach so all students feel welcome and safe on campus, not policed. Having an armed officer just isn’t a good fit for Piedmont Schools.
Finally, after three years, when the DOJ grant funds dry out, how will the District explain away the need for an armed officer, whether for drug prevention or for safety? In light of the coming district’s budget cuts, if it’s determine an officer will remain, what are the District’s plans to pay for this added personnel should it become a permanent decision? Will this result in having to cut a teacher? For the cost of one armed officer, hired and trained by the police department, the district could have three or more non-armed, trained personnel who could also begin outreach at the elementary level when prevention education and outreach is critical.
There are many options that the Piedmont Unified School District (PUSD) has to address drug usage and vaping, but we strongly believe that an SRO is not an effective or necessary means to accomplish this. This is an opportunity for Piedmont schools to model an inclusive, equitable and supportive approach so all students can truly feel welcome and safe on campus.
If you oppose the School Resource Officer position, the following resources and links are available for more information and enable you to express your opinion.
- Fill out and submit the PUSD SRO feedback form if you have a child in the district
- Sign the Opposition to School Resource Officer in Piedmont, CA Petition
- Read the research and evidence based articles on school policing programs located at www.padc.info
- Write a short/one sentence letter/email to the School Board Members who are slated to vote on this matter on March 27th and you can also reach the whole city council at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Attend the Feb. 27th School Board Meeting at 7 pm in the Council Chambers of the City Hall, 120 Vista Avenue, Piedmont when this topic is slated for discussion, with a final vote on March 27th
- Forward this article to your friends who reside, work, attend school or are a part of the Piedmont community
Tonda Case, Co-President, PADC
David Gard, Co-President, PADC
(and the entire PADC Executive Board)