Rochester, New York- The use of city police officers in Rochester city schools is under scrutiny.

Several groups, including the New York Civil Liberties Union, held a meeting Tuesday with parents, teachers, and education advocates. They argue that the presence of officers has a disproportionate effect on students of color.

First, we were unable to find any documentation supporting their arguments. What do they mean by a disproportionate effect? Are they basing that solely on number of interactions? The type and severity of actions taken by the SRO?

If it is the latter, what was the student action that led to the law enforcement response? You cannot simply look at the racial background of the student and use that as the sole basis for your argument.  

But let’s take a quick look at Rochester. According to census.gov. School age children make up 23.3% of the population, or 48,064 people. People of color make up 63.2% of the city. Carrying that number across the student population, students of color outnumber white students by a 1.7:1 ratio.

Earlier this month, 13WHAM reported that at least one Rochester City School District Board of Education member favors removing police in schools, saying there’s little evidence they make schools safer.

The president of the Rochester Teachers Association says he disagrees.

The 13 School Resource Officers who work in Rochester City School District high schools cost the school district $1.5 million a year.

For those of you in law enforcement looking for a pay increase…look at Rochester, NY. Those 13 officers, or at least their department, are receiving $115,384.62 annually, more than twice the annual average salary ($54,791) of officers working for the Rochester Police Department.

School Board Commissioner Beatriz Lebron says data she’s been reviewing shows officers in school may not be worth the cost.

Again, there is no indication as to what that data is.

“Even with SROs in the school, there are still incidents of fights and issues that occur – so it doesn’t prevent, but it may feel safer for the adults,” said Lebron, who added that students who connect with SROs are more likely to get arrested later.

60 different campuses are shared between 13 officers, or 4.5 campuses for each officer to cover. Hmmm. I wonder why fights and stuff still occur.

And Ms. Lebron, logic and common sense should tell you that students are a microcosm of the greater society.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the current recidivism rate in this country is 67.5 percent. Odds are, more than half of the students contacted by your SROs are going to be repeat offenders.  

“I think it’s the opposite,” says Adam Urbanski, head of the Rochester Teacher’s Union.  “Most students feel safer with a person they know and trust in school,” he added.

In 2017, Toronto schools ended their SRO program, citing many of the same concerns shared by Commissioner LeBron.

By all means, let’s look at what schools in other countries do as a model for safety and policing.

The SRO program in Rochester began in 1998.

RCSD is looking for ways to close its $30 million deficit and everything is said to be under consideration, but Urbanski does not think the SRO program should be cut.

The Rochester City School District and the City of Rochester are taking a closer look at the SRO program, and LeBron says feedback will be sought from families. The information will be given to Superintendent Terry Dade later this year.

But Rochester is not alone in their move towards eliminating SRO programs. In the race towards lawlessness being run between New York and California, California got their first.

In yet another stroke of genius that originally put California in a group all to itself, the Sacramento City Unified School District voted 6 to 1 this past Thursday night to reduce school resource officers (SROs) on campus. 

If only it were merely a budgetary concern. However, school leaders said it was part of a larger discussion about the overall role of officers in a school setting.

The plan calls for reducing school resource officers from eight to three with a police sergeant. It also calls for hiring a director of school safety.

“I think that there is general recognition that we have to do more to think about school safety in a different model than what we’ve had in the past,” said Jessie Ryan, school board president.

Ryan joined members of law enforcement, parents and educators in discussing how to better use the $1.5 million set aside for SROs. Apparently, cutting the number of available officers is the best way to spend that money.

NOTE: Sacramento schools and Rochester schools are spending the same amount of money for their SRO program, $1.5 million. The disparity is that Sacramento only has 3 officers covering 70 schools; Rochester has 13 for 60.

According to Sacramento’s ABC10, the other objectives include:

  • Training for existing staff, including, but not limited to, implicit bias and restorative practices that focus on building a stronger positive school climate and developing stronger supports for students by caring district and site staff;
  • Identifying and seeking increased funding for mental health support to students; focusing on the role of site administrators as the primary contact on discipline matters;
  • Eliminating school-based assignments for SROs;
  • Centralized data monitoring where non-school site SROs’ assistance is requested and provided;
  • Building more robust processes and procedures pertaining to comprehensive school safety plans, emergency drills, and related policies and protocols through the development of a broad work group; and engaging students and families in the planning and monitoring of school safety investments.

It would be very difficult to have school-based assignments when you consider that they are only going to have three SROs for 70 campuses. 

“I’m not sure how you take three people and divide them amongst 70 plus school sites,” said Julie Snider.

She’s a Rosemont High School science teacher.

“I’m just not sure how that’s supposed to work. To me, we need to stick with what is tried and true and with what we know to be working. Both staff and parents and the community at large are being blindsided. There has not been a general announcement about this policy change.”

And in a statement that you probably saw coming, Carl Pinkston of the School Resource Officer Coalition stated:

“One of the challenges is that in urban areas where there are predominantly Black and Latino students, we are overly policed, which creates a pipeline to prison.”

He believes there is a role for police on school campuses in cases of “really egregious crimes that take place and impacts the campus.”

But when that really “egregious” act takes place, what are 3 SROs going to do? There will be very little they can do, as they are not likely to be on the campus when it happens. It would be nearly impossible when each officer is assigned 23 campuses.

Snider said she feels the school resource officer is an important part of life on campus.

“He councils potential runaways. He talks with kids who are becoming suicidal. He does a lot of things that are above and beyond what you would think a police officer would do,” she explained.

Snider’s wife said with all the recent mass shootings, removing officers from campuses seems ill-advised.

“And to all of a sudden remove that, not have anybody there as a buffer so that people think twice about their behavior, just seems rather ludicrous at this day and time,” she said.

In sentiment that similarly reflects Pinkston’s, a representative of the district said that some have complained that armed uniform officers on campus have made them feel uneasy, especially among minority students.

The alternative district safety plan states the presence of a police officer on campus causes concern due to reports across the country of alleged police brutality.

What are leaders in Sacramento thinking?

In Nebraska this February, a bill was introduced by Omaha Senator Ernie Chambers that would ban police officers from being school resource officers.

It’s mind boggling.

The bill specifies that peace officers actively employed by a law enforcement agency wouldn’t be allowed to serve as a school resource officer.

Now in case you started thinking this has something to do with budgets – it doesn’t.  It has to do with race.

Chambers says that SRO programs “disproportionately impact students of color and those with disabilities”, creating the same “toxic, discriminatory impact” found in society at large.

That’s right.  He’s essentially saying that SROs are racist at their core and so is all of society.

“It is counterproductive to the purpose and goals of education and its processes, to convert conduct that in the past was handled within the school context, into a basis for arrest and entanglement in the court system with the possibility of being locked up,” he said.

The bill wouldn’t apply to a peace officer responding to a safety threat at a school or providing security for an extracurricular event.

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Not that it’s a surprise, but Rose Godinez, representing the ACLU of Nebraska, spoke in favor of the bill. Try and follow her logic here.  We sure can’t.

She says that diverse communities tend to have more school resources officers, and that somehow leads to a disproportionate impact on students of color.

“While adding police officers in schools may be well intentioned, educators and policymakers are overlooking the harmful and disparate educational impacts that harsh discipline … can have [on students],” Godinez said. “LB589 ends the routine policing of school which criminalizes everyday behaviors.”

Harsh discipline is now apparently a bad thing.  Perhaps a better approach would be letting kids run schools and inmates run prisons.

As you might imagine, the chief of police in Hastings is adamantly opposed to the bill, arguing it would have a significant and negative impact on the safety and education of students in Nebraska schools.

“Within our nation there has been a dramatic increase in recent years with tragic events in schools,” he said. “Being present within our schools helps us to prevent [these events] and take immediate action to ensure the safety of our students and staff.”

The committee bill was up for discussion on February 14, but they took no immediate action on the bill.

One has to wonder… how did we get to this point?  How is it that the moment there’s a school shooting, it’s blamed on guns?  But when we have opportunities to put in place safety measures to protect children and teachers, it’s somehow racist?

Why aren’t we having a conversation about how parents don’t discipline their children anymore and it’s impacting schools?  Why aren’t we talking about the cultural and socio-economic differences in various communities and how they play a role in creating violent offenders regardless of race?

The Senator isn’t making an argument based on stats or data.  As a matter of fact, the data would suggest he is flat out wrong.  Let’s look, for example, at some recent numbers about police-involved shootings.

According to 2016 FBI data, black men commit murder 572.8% more than white men.  Rapes are committed at a level of 146.1% greater, robbery at 617.9% greater, aggravated assault at 203.3% greater and violent crime in total at 263.6% greater. 

Now let’s look at 2018 Police Deadly Use of Force data.

In 2018 there were a total of 998 Police Deadly Use Of Force incidents. Of these incidents, 95.3% of suspects were armed:

  • Gun – 555
  • Knife – 185
  • Replica weapon – 33
  • Vehicle – 38
  • Other – 105
  • Unknown – 35
  • Unarmed – 47

Of the 47 (4.7%) that were “unarmed”:

  • White – 23
  • Black – 18
  • Hispanic – 6

NOTE: In almost half of the cases (22) where the suspect was unarmed, non-lethal force was attempted & failed prior to the use of deadly Force.

Of the 998 total Police Deadly Use of Force, here is the breakdown by Race & Age:

Race

  • White – 456
  • Black – 229
  • Hispanic – 165
  • Other – 41
  • Unknown – 107

Age

  • Under 18- 15
  • 18 to 29- 286
  • 30 to 44- 379
  • Over 45- 253
  • Unknown- 65

Wait a minute.  Stop the train.  In 2018, more white people were shot and killed by police than black, Hispanic and other ethnicities COMBINED?

But… how can that be? This doesn’t seem to fit the argument of Omaha Senator Ernie Chambers or the countless others (including those kneeling in front of the flag), who allege that cops are disproportionately shooting black men.

If we’re going to have a serious conversation about “police brutality” in America, let’s do it.  But let’s base it on facts and data, not “feelings”.  And let’s not start by putting our kids at risk by removing the protectors who are working to keep them safe.

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