School Resource Officers in NC

The qualifications to become an SRO are insufficient.

 In many districts, the only requirement to become an SRO is being a certified law enforcement officer. This is the case in Wake County, home of the largest school district in the state. In Wake County, there is no requirement that SROs working full-time with students demonstratea documented history of positive work with children and youth, a track record free of incidents of excessive force, discrimination, or other forms of misconduct, or even possess a minimum number of years of experience as a law enforcement officer.

 Training for SROs is insufficient.

 Working in a school setting is different than serving as a law enforcement official on thestreets. Different skills and training are necessary to adapt to the school environment.Nevertheless, there is no requirement that all SROs be trained in the following important areas:

  1. positive behavior management;

  2. mental health issues, disabilities, adolescent development and psychology, and recognizing symptoms of trauma, abuse, and exposure to violence and the behaviors such exposure tends to produce;

  3. effects of court involvement and interaction with the juvenile/criminal justice systems;

  4. information about alternatives to arrests and court referrals, including restorative justice and referrals to community-based resources (e.g., mental health, drug treatment, mentoring, afterschool programs);

  5. cultural competency;

  6. de-escalation strategies for students without using physical force and using safe restraint techniques;

  7. constitutional standards for searches and interrogations of students; and

  8. content of the district’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and appropriate interpretations of the MOU.

 

 Students are referred to court for relatively minor school-based misconduct.

 The criminalization of school-based conduct is becoming more and more prevalent in North Carolina, even for minor offenses. Referring students to court for school-based offenses is of particular concern because North Carolina is one of only two states in the nation that automatically charges, prosecutes, and sentences all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. Accordingly, many if notmost high school students who end up in court for alleged school-basedoffenses are funneled straight into the adult criminal system. Notably, however, there is no publicly available data that is maintained regarding students age 16 and up who are sent to criminal court as a result of school-related behavior. Furthermore, there is no publicly-available data regarding the use of force against students or the number school-based arrests made by SROs.

 

The following data, which addresses only those students age 15 and younger, paints a mere fraction of the picture regarding the increasing criminalization of students in North Carolina schools.

  • Statewide in 2011 there were 16,118 school-based delinquency complaints. School-based complaints accounted for 43% of all delinquency complaints.i

  • In Wake County, during the 2011-12 state fiscal year (FY):

    • More than one-third (34.6%) of all delinquent complaints filed in Wake County were school-related.ii

    • The 763 school-based delinquency complaints filed in FY2011-12 were a 23.5% increase from the previous year.iii

    • Very young students were subject to school-based delinquency complaints. One hundred and fifty-four (154) complaints were filed against students age 12 and younger.iv A complaint was filed against a seven-year-old for simple assault.v

    • Many students became court-involved for minor offenses. Ninety percent (90%) of the complaints were for misdemeanors.vi

 

Of additional concern is the fact that black students and male students are disproportionately subjected to school-based delinquency complaints.

 

    • In the Wake County Public School System in 2011-12, nearly three-quarters (74.4%) of the school-based delinquency complaints were filed against Black students,vii even though they made up only about one-quarter (24.4%) of the total school population.viii

    • By comparison, White students made up 49.3% of the school population,ix but received only 17.6% of the complaints.x

    • The percentage of complaints filed against Black students increased by 11.6 percentage points from the previous year.xi

    • Male students received 77.5% of school-based delinquency complaints.xii

 

 SROs use their weapons on students, causing and threatening to cause serious physical harm.

 Often, there are no limitations in a school district’s Memorandum of Understanding on when SROs can use their weapons, including pepper spray and TASERs, on students. Instead, SROs are given broad discretion in using dangerous weapons to deal with even minor student behavior. For example, in the Winston Salem-Forsythe School System in 2012, two cousins were cited for an affray in which both students looked as though they were going to fight. The altercation was not of a violent nature, and neither student was even charged with assault. Instead of deescalating the situation using positive strategies, the SRO simply used his TASER to incapacitate one of the students. The officer’s police chief commented on the situation as follows:

Officer Deeney didn't see the entire fight. He saw two subjects swinging at each other. I know I've heard comments 'well why didn't he just stop and yell at them until they stopped?' Well, that's not our job. If someone is trying to assault somebody but they're not landing a punch, that's an assault. That's a crime. It's criminal behavior. We have to stop it," said Chief Gamble.xiii

While fights are not a new phenomenon in a high school, viewing children as “subjects,” a schoolyard scuffle as “criminal behavior,” and the use of a high-powered weapon as a tool for deescalating normal adolescent behavior is an unfortunate perspective that has been added to the school environment by the presence of police officers.

 The use of tasers has likewise been an issue in the Wake County public School System along with the use of pepper spray. Unfortunately, there is no publicly available record of the use of force against students by SROs, and so there is no way to know just how pervasive the problem is. The following list is in no way exhaustive: it comprises only those stories that were publicly reported by the media in Wake County:

  • In 2007, a high school student was shot with a TASER and had to be taken to the hospital.xiv

  • In 2008 high school student diagnosed with mental health issues was TASERed multiple times and his lung collapsed. The District had to pay a $12,000 settlement as a result of the incident.xv

  • In 2009, pepper spray was used to break up a fight at a middle school, which resulted in paramedics being called to the scene and students being treated for injuries.xvi

  • In 2010, pepper spray was used to break up a fight across the street from a local middle school, which resulted in 15 to 20 students needing treatment.xvii

  • Also in 2010, an eighth grade female student was shot with a TASER.xviii

  • Again in 2010, pepper spray was used to break up a fight at a high school, which resulted in six ambulances being called to the scene,16 students being treated, and four students being taken to the hospital.xix

  • During the 2011-12 school year, two students were TASERed by SROs at two different high schools.xx

 

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