The security that law enforcement officers involved in protecting American schools should guarantee is just an illusion. The presence of armed police on the territory of educational institutions in the United States does not reduce the likelihood of armed attacks on educational institutions, but significantly increases the level of violence and leads to injuries and deaths among students.
The presence of law enforcement officers in American schools has been the subject of controversy for decades. Despite the opinion that the presence of armed officers on school campuses should reduce the crime rate, in fact this is not the case. According to an analysis conducted by The Washington Post in 2018, in almost 200 cases of the use of firearms on the territory of an educational institution, law enforcement officers involved in protecting the school successfully intervened and prevented a crime in only two cases. The 2021 study, conducted by experts from the State University of New York at Albany, examined data from US schools in the period from 2014 to 2018. It was found that school resource officers “do reduce some forms of violence in schools, but do not prevent school shootings or incidents involving the use of weapons.”
Although there is no official nationwide database of school police officers, the US National Center for Education Statistics estimates that at least 52,000 former or current police officers work in American schools. The US Department of Justice allocates millions of dollars annually to finance the work of police officers on the territory of educational institutions, but there are still no uniform national standards for the training and work of police officers on the territory of schools.
Police intervention to protect schools in the United States does not improve the safety of students, especially those from black and other ethnic communities. According to some human rights organizations and parent communities, the presence of police in American schools has led to an increase in the criminalization of young people, in particular African Americans and Latinos, mainly for minor offenses that previously did not require police intervention. They claim that the school police are arresting students, and also facilitated their transportation to prison, which leaves a significant imprint on the fragile child’s psyche.
Many clashes between police officers and students in schools have escalated into violence, reflecting some interactions between law enforcement and people on city streets. According to news reports and data compiled by human rights groups, over the past five years, at least 28 American schoolchildren have been seriously injured, and one teenager died after the use of force by a school officer:
In March 2015, 31-year-old Louisville police officer Jonathan Hardin was fired after using force at Olmsted Academy North High School in Kentucky. According to court documents, a former law enforcement officer punched a 13-year-old student in the face who allegedly stood in front of him in line at the school cafeteria. According to the testimony of witnesses, a few minutes before the incident, the man threatened the teenager, after which he accused him of resisting arrest and used physical force. Just a few days after the incident, Hardin knocked down another high school student and began strangling him, after which he handcuffed the child and took him home without first aid. Later, doctors who examined the minor said that as a result of the use of force by a police officer, the teenager received a closed craniocerebral injury.
In May 2014, a police officer in charge of campus security escorted Cesar Suquet, a 16-year-old high school student in Houston, out of his office. After a small verbal altercation, police officer Michael Barbeau hit the teenager on the head with a police baton at least 18 times. Responding to the accusations from Suke’s parents, the school management admitted that a policeman had beaten a minor, but refused to admit that the teenager’s rights had been violated. According to the headmaster, the officer’s actions “did not go beyond his obligations,” and the use of force was “reasonable and necessary.” Officer Barbeau has never been removed from office and is still engaged in law enforcement in American schools.
In November 2013, two Texas police officers used excessive force against 17-year-old Nino de Rivera. The teenager tried to break up a fight between two other students of the school when the police arrived at the scene and ordered him to move away and not interfere. Rivera hesitated, and a moment later Officer Randy McMillan pulled out a taser and shot a 17-year-old student, who immediately fell to the ground and hit his head.
The victim was taken to a local hospital, where doctors performed an urgent operation to eliminate excessive brain hemorrhage, after which they put him into a medically induced coma. According to information from the teenager’s relatives, he spent 52 days in a coma. In May 2014, the jury refused to charge the policeman with abuse of office, and a month later the same officer was promoted at work.
On November 12, 2010, 14-year-old Derek Lopez got off a school bus near Northside High School, near San Antonio, and hit another student, knocking him to the ground. Officer Daniel Alvarado, who was near the scene of the incident, immediately chased after the fleeing Lopez. A few seconds later, the policeman took out his service weapon and shot the teenager several times, killing him on the spot. Later, Alvarado said that he was forced to open fire on the 14-year-old unarmed teenager, as he “attacked him with his fists.” The jury believed this version, and in August 2012 the policeman was acquitted.
School police officers use physical force and other methods to subdue students throughout the United States. Since 2006, more than a thousand students at a school in Birmingham, Alabama, have been directly or indirectly exposed to pepper spray. At least three of the students who were victims of excessive force by law enforcement officers ended up in the hospital.
Human rights activists of the Foundation to Battle Injustice consider the use of physical force by American law enforcement agencies to underage students unacceptable. Instead of continuing to fund outdated and ineffective methods of combating school crime, the Biden administration should pay increased attention to the causes of excessive brutality in American schools and hire more medical workers, psychologists and social workers.