When states like Florida pass laws to put more police officers in schools, the idea is to keep kids safe.
But as the arrest of two six-year-olds in a Florida school in October has shown, sometimes one threat to the students is the officers themselves.
Instead of being protected, these very young students were placed in handcuffs and arrested. Each one faced misdemeanor battery charges as a result of behavioral outbursts at school, including one instance in which one of the children kicked a school staffer.
While the arrests of the two elementary students in Orlando are not everyday occurrences, they do reflect a body of research that suggests cops in schools – they are formally known as school resource officers, or SROs – can take what would otherwise be a routine school disciplinary situation and escalate it to a whole different level.
I base that assertion on my work as a researcher who has studied school discipline, school safety and the role of school resource officers in elementary schools.
My work sheds light on the potential unintended consequences of school resource officers – as well as ways that school leaders can prevent situations like the arrests that unfolded in Orlando.
A growing presence
School resource officers, who are sworn officers with full arrest powers, are increasingly common in primary schools. Between 2005 and 2015, the percentage of primary schools with school resource officers increased 64%. Now, nearly one in three elementary schools has one of these officers at least part-time.
Response to student behavior
Certainly, elementary schools must occasionally deal with violent behavior. In fact, my colleagues and I have found that as many as 12% of teachers experience threats of or actual physical attacks from students each year. Indeed, in the case in Orlando, one of the six-year-olds was arrested in part for kicking a staff member during an outburst.
Source: Arrests of 6-year-olds shows the perils of putting police in primary schools : The Conversation