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Police Free Schools Research Summary 1

Police Free Schools Research Summary

Charles Tocci, Ed.D.

July 17, 2020

Chicago Public Schools has offered Local School Councils a “School Resource
Officer Toolkit” with links to six articles as research on the topic. This is woefully
inadequate and the pieces selected don’t really represent the published research.

To cut to the chase, the education research literature on police in schools

shows that these programs have an overall negative affect on students’
academic outcomes and increase the number of misdemeanor arrests of
students. Young Black men are the most impacted by police in schools, with
LGBTQ+ and students enrolled in special education also suffering

Though I’m not an expert in this area, I do have access to a university library and
years of practice in summarizing research. So to help LSCs make better informed
decisions, below is the research summary on police in schools that I wrote for my
alderman as well as a link to my google folder collecting the literature.

A note in advance: there is research on police in schools in both the criminal justice
and education research fields. They are different. Speaking very generally, the
criminal justice studies try to get at the effectiveness of school resource officers as
a policing strategy; the education studies look at how police affect the schools
they are in. I focused my summary on the research that addresses how the
presence of police impacts schools because that is what LSCs are weighing.

Historical Background

School systems’ cooperation and coordination with local police departments goes
back to the first decade of the 20th Century, largely in the form of truancy officers
(Kunichoff, 2017). The first formal “School Resource Officer” (SRO) program was
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introduced in Flint, Michigan in 1953 (Kafka, 2011). Chicago Public Schools (CPS)
began its district-wide formal cooperation with the Chicago Police Department
(CPD) in 1966 with the simultaneous introduction of two programs. The “Officer
Friendly” program started with 40 officers visiting elementary schools in order to
provide young students with positive experiences with law enforcement. The
“Officer Friendly” program expanded in size through the 1970s but ended in the
early-1980s as it demonstrated no real benefits despite significant costs. “Officer
Friendly” was a the forerunner to federally sponsored “cops-as-educators”
programs such as the “Drug Abuse Resistance Education” program (D.A.R.E),
started in 1987, and the “Gang Resistance Education and Training” program
(G.R.E.A.T.), started in 1991. Evaluations of both D.A.R.E. and G.R.E.A.T. clearly
showed that neither program demonstrated positive results (Lewis 2011).

The other CPS program initiated in 1966 was the hiring of off-duty CPD officers to
serve as high school security guards. “The security guard force was only six
people that first year because [of ] the funding allocation problems, but funding
quickly grew until there were about five hundred security guards by 1972, most of
which were off-duty police officers, armed and with the right to arrest” (Mercer
quoted in Kunichoff, 2017). At the time, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) was a
driving force behind the “police-as-security” expansion; CTU president John
Fewkes argued publicly that teachers needed to be protected from Black and
Latinx youth who were increasingly organizing school-based Civil Rights protests
(Kunichoff, 2017).

The rationale for growing CPS’ “police-as-security” program shifted in the 1970s
as schools on the South and West sides underwent quick demographic shifts,
typically from majority White student bodies to majority Black student bodies;
parents from both races called for more police to prevent the violence that marked
this transition (Kunichoff, 2017). Kafka (2011) found the same trend in 1970s Los
Angeles, where the White parents paradoxically called for school policing to
protect their children while also pointing to the presence of cops in schools as a
reason for moving out of the city.

By the mid-1980s, the focus of school policing again shifted as gang violence
became the primary premise, with the 1984 shooting of Ben Wilson near Simeon
High School being a high-profile touchstone. In 1991, the newly-elected Mayor
Daley drew on his “tough-on-crime” campaign platform to require every high
school to employ two uniformed CPD officers.
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Nationally, there has been massive growth in school-based police officers over the
past 45 years. In 1975, 1% of schools reported having an officer stationed on
campus. In 2014, 24% of elementary schools and 42% of secondary schools did so,
including 51% of high schools that enrolled Black and/or Latinx students
(Advancement Project & Alliance for Educational Justice, 2018). A significant
portion of this increase was underwritten by U.S. Department of Justice Office of
Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), which invested over $750 million in
grants to local police departments to hire more than 6,500new SROs and provide
them with training and technical assistance between 1999 and 2009 (Merkwae,

Over time, the roles and duties of police in a school setting have continued to
expand as a result of social and political shifts in criminal justice and education
policy. Paralleling this expansion has been the development of a more punitive
school discipline environment where students are more likely to be suspended,
expelled, ticketed, and/or arrested. (McKenna & White, 2017). There are mixed
findings on whether or not the presence of SROs increases the use of exclusionary
discipline or not (Fischer & Hennessy, 2016).

It’s notable that the current discussion in Chicago blends the “cops-as-educators”
and “police-as-security” approaches without reckoning how the rationale for
continuing or expanding the SRO program has historically evolved in tandem with
shifting racist perceptions of Black and Latinx youth.

National Research

Research on school policing from across the United States clearly demonstrates
that such programs are racially disparate in their application and their outcomes,
with young Black men suffering the most severe consequences.

Students living in low-income neighborhoods and students of color are much more
likely to attend schools with intense secuity conditions such as SROs, metal
detectors, and x-ray machines (Nance, 2013). Nance’s (2016) analysis of US
Department of Education Office of Civil Rights data demonstrates that the regular
presence of a police officer at a school increases the student referrals to law
enforcement even after controlling for variation in state laws, demographics, as
well recent levels criminal activity at the school and surrounding neighborhood.
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Mbekeani-Wiley (2017) shows that police officers stationed in schools increases

the likelihood that students will be referred to law enforcement for adolescent
behavior, though there is no evidence that students of color exhibit higher rates of
misbehavior (Advancement Project & Alliance for Educational Justice, 2018).
Whitaker et. al. (2019) found that schools with police officers report 3.5 times
more arrests than those without.

Across the country, there are “14 million students are in schools with police but no
counselor, nurse, psychologist, or social worker” (Whitaker et. al., 2019, p.4).
National data from the 2013–2014 and 2015–2016 shows that students of color are
more likely to attend schools that employed school police officers, but no school
counselors. “Black students are three times more likely to attend a school with
more security staff than mental health personnel” (Advancement Project & Alliance
for Educational Justice, 2018).

Black and Latinx youth make up over 58% of school-based arrests while
representing only 40% of the national public school enrollment. During the 2015–
2016 school year, Black students made up 15% of the school population but 31% of
the students arrested or referred to law enforcement. While constituting only 17%
of public school enrollment, Black girls represent 43% of girls arrested at school
(Advancement Project & Alliance for Educational Justice, 2018).

Special needs students are especially at risk when interacting with police in
schools. Students with disabilities represent only 12% of student enrollment, but
28% of students referred to law. Merkwae (2015) argues that the school-to-prison
pipeline may be somewhat disrupted if SROs are required to follow the stipulations
of students IEP or 504 plans per federal law. That this rarely occurs is a direct
contradiction of notion that police officers serves as a “school resource.”

For LGBTQIA identifying students, school policing funnels them into a youth justice
system where they are twice as likely to be arrested and detained for a nonviolent
offense (Advancement Project & Alliance for Educational Justice, 2018).

Under Operation Impact, the program between New York City Public Schools and
Police Department, saturated high schools located in high-crime areas with
additional police officers with the mission to engage in aggressive, order-
maintenance policing. Legewie and Fagan (2009) found that exposure to police
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surges significantly reduced test scores in English-language arts and math for
African American boys, consistent with their greater exposure to policing. The size
of the effect increases with age and with consecutive years of exposure to
Operation Impact. Another analysis of the same program found that despite
increased police presence, students enrolled at New York City’s impact schools
continue to experience higher than average problems linked directly to future
criminality, including more student suspensions and lower attendance rates than
other New York City schools (Brady, Balmer, & Phenix, 2007).

Weisburst (2019) finds that exposure to a three-year federal grant for school
police is associated with a 2.5 percent decrease in high school graduation rates
and a 4 percent decrease in college enrollment rates. Exploiting detailed data on
over 2.5 million students in Texas, Weisburst concludes that federal grants for
police in schools increase middle school discipline rates by 6 percent. The rise in
discipline is driven by sanctions for low-level offenses or school code of conduct
violations. Further, Black students experience the largest increases in discipline.

Similarly, Sorenson, Shen, and Bushway, (2020) find that when an SRO arrives at a
school, the incidence of serious violent offenses decreases, but students are also
more likely to receive out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, or referrals to law
enforcement. SROs do not increase the overall number of juvenile justice
complaints against students in a school but do increase the number of juvenile
misdemeanor complaints (Sorenson, Shen, & Bushway, 2020). A close analysis of
Denver Public Schools between 2007 and 2012 corroborates this conclusion. The
majority of referrals in Denver were for minor behaviors like use of obscenities,
disruptive appearance, and destruction of non-school property (Advancement
Project & Alliance for Educational Justice, 2018)

There is mixed evidence about SRO program influences on student perceptions of

law enforcement. Jackson (2007) found the use of an SRO in schools does not
change students’ view of the police in general or offending. This weak impact is, at
least in part, attributable to the negative contact that young people may have with
the police and their SRO. This study concludes that, since the SRO has no
significant impact on students’ perception of police or offending, then it would
behoove school administrators to utilize their financial resources for counseling,
student-faculty crime prevention programs or delinquency awareness programs.
More recently, Theriot (2016) concludes that for students who have interacted with
an SRO, there is evidence that such interactions positively influence students’
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attitudes about SROs yet are associated with lower levels school connectedness.
This influence appears especially acute for students who reported the most SRO
interactions during the school year.

Nolan (2011) argues that continual engagement with police in urban schools by
students of color increases noncompliance and resistance. In turn, student
behaviors deemed “disrespectful” or “insubordinate” by SROs are often the
precursor to an arrest. It is these types of recurrent interactions with police that fill
the school-to-prison pipeline. Rios (2017) calls this a “crisis of control,” that is, the
more schools attempt to control students of color through policing, the more
student backlash it produces. This ultimately leads to a failure to control students,
begetting a vicious cycle of calls for more policing to remedy current failures.

Conversely, Whitaker et. al. (2019) find that “[s]chools that employ more school-
based mental health providers see improved attendance rates, lower rates of
suspension and other disciplinary incidents, expulsion, improved academic
achievement and career preparation, and improved graduation rates.” (p.4).
Moreover, their analysis demonstrates a correlations between these kinds of
school staff and improved student health as well as school safety outcomes.

Philadelphia provides a strong example of a large city school district intentionally

developing systems to divert students from the school-to-prison pipeline. The
Philadelphia Police School Diversion Program, a collaboration between the public
schools and Department of Human Services as well as other child-serving
agencies, is designed to divert youth from school-based arrest and into
community-based services to address identified needs. All students, ages 10 and
older, without prior adjudications or open cases, who have committed designated
summary or misdemeanor offenses on school grounds, are enrolled in this program
and connected with a DHS-sponsored service provider — rather than facing arrest
and automatic removal from school through suspension, expulsion, or disciplinary
transfer. The Philadelphia Police School Diversion Program has been cited as a
model of collaborative partnerships to address the school-to-prison pipeline
(Goldstein et. al. 2019).

None of the above literature presents a clear construct about what constitutes
“security” or “safety” in relation to policing in a school setting. So, while there is
compelling evidence that school policing programs negatively impact students of
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color, and Black youth most significantly, there is no evidence that SROs or police
officers make schools more safe, more secure, or more effective learning
environments (Whitaker et. al, 2019). In short, there is no positive educational case
for police to be stationed in schools.

Chicago-focused Research

By and large the research on CPS’ SRO program comports with national research
on school policing. More than 95% of police incidents in CPS involve students of
color despite comprising only 89% of the student body. Even while police incidents
overall have cut in half in the past decade, they continue to target Black students
at four times the rate of White students in CPS. Black students currently make up
35.9% of all CPS students, yet 65.77% were the subject of Police Notifications from
2011–2012 to 2017–2018. Students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs,
required for enrollment in Special Education programs) make up only 15% of the
CPS population, but over 30% of police incidents involve students with IEPs
(Mbekeani-Wiley, 2017; Ortiz et. al., 2020).

The City of Chicago Office of Inspector General reported that from 2017–2019,
nearly 3,000 people were arrested on or near CPS schools. Of these, 78% were
Black and 18% Latinx. In the 355 incidents involving a reported use of force by
officers, 81% of those arrested were Black and 14 were Latinx (Lawrence, 2020). It
is important to note that these statistics were not collected or provided by CPS,
but were compiled by the OIG using geo-location data from CPD. CPS is required
by law to collected report these data to the federal Department of Education Office
of Civil Rights under the 2015 federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

Nearly a third (27%) of school-based arrest offenses on CPS property is simple

battery. This suggests that a significant number of CPS students are probably
being arrested for fighting. Certain police districts are more likely to arrest youth in
schools than others. In particular, the highest aggregate numbers of juvenile
school-based arrests are in the 4th, 6th, 8th, 22nd, and 5th police districts
(covering the South and West sides of the city). Together these five districts
account for 39% of total juvenile school-based arrests on CPS property. (Kaba &
Edwards, 2012)
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The 180 School Resource Officers and 21 School Liaison Supervisors assigned to
CPS have a combined total of at least 2,354 misconduct complaint records on file
against them (Ortiz et. al., 2020). Misbehavior by SROs led to over $2 million in
settlements from 2012–2016 (Mbekeani-Wiley, 2017). Moreover, there are
sophisticated networks of investigation that may result in arrests and convictions
that are not subject to community oversight and may possibly violate a student’s
right to privacy (Mbekeani-Wiley, 2017).

“By promoting police intervention in school settings, the district is limiting

students’ opportunities to build productive and sustainable responses to stress
and hindering their ability to succeed academically” (Mbekeani-Wiley, 2017). As
the Consortium on Chicago School Research argues, “it is the quality of
relationships between staff and students and between staff and parents that most
strongly defines safe schools. Indeed, disadvantaged schools with high-quality
relationships actually feel safer than advantaged schools with low-quality
relationships.” (Steinberg, M., Allensworth, E. and David W. Johnson, 2011, p.1).

With the preponderance of evidence indicating that SROs have a significant,

racially disparate negative impact on students’ social and educational outcomes,
CPS should feel compelled to end the SRO program and reinvest those funds into
relationships, services, and reform efforts explicitly dedicated to the physical,
social-emotional, and educational well-being of its students. And given the
demographics of CPS and Chicago, these efforts must be thoughtfully and
thoroughly anti-racist and assessed by the success of the students most harmed
by police in schools, Black youth. There is no research-based argument to the

Bibliography (sources collected in this folder)

Advancement Project & Alliance for Educational Justice. (2018). We came to learn:
A call to action for police free schools. The Advancement

Brady, K. P., Balmer, S., & Phenix, D. (2007). School — Police Partnership
Effectiveness in Urban Schools: An Analysis of New York City’s Impact Schools
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Initiative. Education and Urban Society, 39(4), 455–


City of Chicago Office of Inspector General. (2018). Review of the Chicago Police
Department’s management of school resource officers. Office of Inspector

City of Chicago Office of Inspector General. (2019). Review of the Chicago Police
Department’s management of school resource officers follow-up inquiry.Office of
Inspector General.

Duxbury, L. & Bennell, C. (2019). Police in schools: An evidence-based look at the

use of school resource officers. Taylor & Francis.

Goldstein, N. E. S., Cole, L. M., Houck, M., Haney-Caron, E., Holliday, S. B.,
Kreimer, R., & Bethel, K. (2019). Dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline: The
Philadelphia police school diversion program. Children and Youth Services
Review, 101, 61–69.

Fischer, B.W. & Hennessy, E.A. (2016). School Resource Officers and Exclusionary
Discipline in U.S. High Schools: A Systematic Review and Meta-
analysis. Adolescent Research Review, 1, p.217–233

Jackson, A. (2002). Police-school resource officers’ and students’ perception of

the police and offending. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies &
Management, 25(3), 631–650.

Javdani, S. (2019). Policing Education: An Empirical Review of the Challenges and

Impact of the Work of School Police Officers. American Journal of Community
Psychology, 63(3–4), 253–269.

Kaba, M. & Edwards, F. (2012). Policing Chicago Public Schools: A gateway to the
school-to-prison pipeline. Project Nia.
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Kafka, J. (2011). The history of “zero tolerance” in American public schooling.


Kunichoff, Y. (2017, October 31). Where the pipeline begins: A history of police in
Chicago Public Schools. South Side Weekly.

Lawrence, J. (2020, July 3). CPS Dodged Reforming Police In Schools For 2 Years,
Inspector General Says. Now, District Vows To Do Better. Block Club

Legewie, J. & Fagan, J. (2019). Aggressive Policing and the Educational

Performance of Minority Youth. American Sociological Review(forthcoming).

Lewis, S. A. (2011). A History of Programs Implemented by the Chicago Police

Department within Chicago Public Schools [Doctoral Dissertation]. Loyola

Mbekeani-Wiley, M. (2017). Handcuffs in the hallways: The state of policing in

Chicago Public Schools.The Sargent Shriver Center on Poverty Law.

McKenna, J. M., & White, S. R. (2018). Examining the Use of Police in Schools: How
Roles may Impact Responses to Student Misconduct. American Journal of Criminal
Justice, 43(3), 448–470.

Merkwae, A. (2015). Schooling the Police: Race, Disability, and the Conduct of
School Resource Officers. Michigan Journal of Race and Law, 21, p.147–182.

Nance, J.P. (2103). Students, Security, & Race. Emory Law Review, 63(1), p.2–57.
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Nance, J.P. (2016). Students, Police, and the School-To-Prison

Pipeline. Washington University Law Review, 93(4), p.919–987.

Nolan, K. (2011). Police in the hallways. Univ. of Minnesota


Ortiz, A., Martinez, K., Rodriguez, V., Perez, C., Hilke, C., Cantor, J., Southorn, D.,
May, P., & Armenta, M. (2020, June 16). #CopsOutCPS. BPNC, Beyond Legal Aid,
American Fiends Service Committee, & Enlace.

Pigott, C., Stearns, A. E., & Khey, D. N. (2018). School Resource Officers and the
School to Prison Pipeline: Discovering Trends of Expulsions in Public
Schools. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 43(1), 120–

Rios, V. M., & Vigil, J. D. (2017). Human targets : schools, police, and the
criminalization of Latino youth. The University of Chicago Press.

Sorensen, L., Shen, Y., & Bushway, S. D. (2020). Making Schools Safer and/or
Escalating Disciplinary Response: A Study of Police Officers in North Carolina
Schools. SSRN Electronic Journal.

Steinberg, M., Allensworth, E. and David W. Johnson (May, 2011). Student and
Teacher Safety in Chicago Public Schools: The Roles of Community Context and
School Social Organization. University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School

Theriot, M. T. (2016). The Impact of School Resource Officer Interaction on

Students’ Feelings About School and School Police. Crime & Delinquency, 62(4),

Turner, E. O., & Beneke, A. J. (2020). ‘Softening’ school resource officers: The
extension of police presence in schools in an era of Black Lives Matter, school
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shootings, and rising inequality. Race Ethnicity and Education, 23(2), 221–

Weisburst, E. K. (2019). Patrolling Public Schools: The Impact of Funding for

School Police on Student Discipline and Long-term Education Outcomes: Patrolling
Public Schools. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 38(2), 338–

Whitaker, A., Torres-Guillen, S., Morton, M., Jordan, H., Coyle, S., Mann, A., &
Sunn, W. (2019). Cops and No Counselors. The American Civil Liberties

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