Doug Gansler got it wrong: School Resource Officers feed the school-to-jail pipeline, not the other way around

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In a recent op-ed, gubernatorial candidate Doug Gansler calls for more school resource officers (SROs) to keep “students from falling into the criminal justice system.” (“School Resource Officers Keeping Kids Safe and Keeping Them Away from the Criminal Justice System; We Need More of Them,” March 2.)

There is no data showing that ORS makes schools safer; in fact, research shows that youth of color, especially black youth, fare worse in schools with ORS, incurring more suspensions, expulsions and referrals to juvenile court – including an increase in arrests for non-criminal and juvenile behavior. It’s particularly troubling in Maryland, which is the first country to incarcerate young black men, at a rate 25 percent higher than the closest state: Mississippi.

The ORS explosion has been justified as preventing school shootings, which have mostly occurred in suburban schools by white students; yet ORS are disproportionately placed in predominantly black or Latino schools. Schools with 25% to 50% black or Latinx youth had higher rates of ORS than schools with less than 10% black or Latinx youth. As schools closed due to COVID-19, we got a glimpse of a world without ORS. Between February 1 and April 1, 2020, youth admissions to secure custody decreased by 52% and racial disparities narrowed. Although there are many reasons for this, fewer SROs should not be ignored.

Estimates suggest that since Columbine in 1999, nearly $1 billion has been invested in SROs, particularly in communities of color. We should redirect taxpayer dollars to approaches that will make schools safer, including well-trained counsellors, social workers and teachers, and alternative and restorative justice practices. Maryland should close the school-to-jail pipeline, not expand it.

Keith Wallington and Ryan King

The authors are Director of Advocacy and Director of Research and Policy, respectively, at the Justice Policy Institute.

I strongly disagree with Douglas Gansler’s assertion that our schools should invest in more police officers. I am alarmed that he associates black students with perpetrators, when a majority of school shooters do not fit that description. His plan, under the guise of “protecting black children,” reinforces biased beliefs that children of color are to be feared.

That mentality is what created the school-to-prison pipeline, which Mr. Gansler was complicit in as Maryland’s attorney general at the height of mass incarceration. No child was born “at risk”. Risk is created by artificial circumstances. The goal is not to “support students at risk”; it is all about preventing students from becoming at risk.

Well-funded schools where the needs of students and families are met keep everyone safe. I fear that if, given the chance to be governor, Mr. Gansler would not understand systemic harm or restorative practices. We need a governor who understands from day one.

Listen carefully to the past favorable testimonials for increased police funding, and the message is clear. The accomplished school resource officer is atypical and emphasizes overall services rather than policing. They clearly prove the position of organizations such as Schools Not Jails, Bmore Police Free Schools and others that we need to invest in social workers and counsellors, not law enforcement.

ORS are generally reactionary. They intervene after an incident has occurred. Many who don’t have traumatic lived experience in this area assume that throwing money at the reaction will make us safer. As a result, there is too little investment in prevention. The goal for our children, including my toddler Vinny, is to have minimal negative childhood experiences (ACE). Ensuring that all children have low ACE scores creates a healthier society where less harm is done.

I have an ACE score of seven. The professionals who kept me out of jail were therapists and school counselors, not cops. There are many students struggling with life circumstances they did not create, carrying burdens that would crush some adults. In the midst of a crisis, a highly trained counselor is the fastest path to healing and safety. In most crises, call a trauma-informed professional, not a police officer.

Doug Gansler’s plan would establish the first contact of troubled police students. Instead, we should connect students with the healthcare professionals they need when they need them most. Using costly punitive OSRs as mental health triage is not a complete plan. I encourage Mr. Gansler to listen to students with these lived experiences. They are the subject matter experts of these stories. Invest in more trained educators and mental health professionals in our schools, not more cops.

Ashley Esposito, Baltimore

The writer is an at-large candidate for the Baltimore City Board of Education.

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