Are Cops in Schools Creating a ‘Climate of Fear?’

After several high-profile incidents, advocates call for a task force to analyze the role of school officers.

By Alain StephensMay 18, 2016 10:10 am| ,

A viral video was making the rounds, showing a 12-year-old girl body slammed by a police officer in a San Antonio school. That officer has since been fired, but the incident raised concerns about the role of police officers in schools. Now advocates are calling on Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to appoint a task force to look into exactly how police should be used in schools across the state.

Deborah Fowler, executive director of Texas Appleseed, says her non-profit is among the groups calling on the governor to appoint this task force.

Fowler says the groups sent a letter to the governor’s office after a number of use-of-force incidents in schools across the state over the past few years.

“We hope that this can be another opportunity for us to take a look as the state at the appropriate role of police in schools, how they should intervene with students,” she says, “really take a holistic look at how police are providing services and creating safe environments for our students and our teachers.”

Incidents like the girl body slammed in school last month, Fowler says, have an impact on the school climate.

“For children, rather than creating a climate of safety, that that kind of interaction with a school police officer can create a climate of fear,” she says.

Fowler says she sees a connection between the escalating issues with use of force in schools and the increased use of military equipment by local police officers, from the Department of Defense’s 1033 program, initially enacted in 1990 in response to the country’s drug crisis.

“A number of school district police departments were participating in the 1033 program,” she says. “If you have weapons of war being used by police officers on school campuses, does this really improve safety for students and teachers?”

Fowler says advocates understand the need for officers in truly dire situations, but she and others have noticed that often officers are called into situations that used to be handled with a trip to the principal’s office.

“That’s where we would hope there would be more clarity,” she says, “what the appropriate role is for a school police officer, when they should get involved and when it’s more appropriate to have a school administrator, the principal, get involved.”

Post prepared by Hannah McBride.