Schools, Crime, and Policing
(Crime, Justice, and Drugs)
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
School systems in the U.S. grapple with efforts to reduce student exposure to violence both inside and outside the school. The assignment of police officers to schools – referred to as School Resource Officers (SROs) – has emerged as a common policy response. SROs are now stationed in 42% of all public schools (NCES, 2017). Perhaps partly because of this trend, the incidence of school violence and crime within schools has declined steadily since the 1990s (Cook, Gottfredson, & Na, 2010), and 95 percent of students say they feel safe in their schools (NCES, 2018). On the other hand, high-profile school shootings, such as those in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, and Parkland, Florida, continue to sow public alarm, and several states have passed laws requiring the assignment of an officer to each and every school (Curran, 2018).
The tremendous growth in SROs has not been accompanied by the research needed to understand the impact of these changes. The Obama administration funded research to fill this vacuum as part of its focus on the issue of police legitimacy and fairness (President’s Task Force, 2015). This panel represents the rising tide of research on SROs that has started to flow, partly in response to the Obama administration’s efforts.
The first two studies examine the direct effect of police in schools on student outcomes. The first uses the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to examine how experiencing police stops inside or outside of school associates with student absenteeism. The authors find that police contact is common among urban teens, unequally distributed by race and sex, and likely to compromise student attendance. The second study assesses effects of SRO placement in middle schools on student disciplinary behaviors and consequences. They find that SROs reduce the number of violent events at schools, but also increase rates of out-of-school suspension, particularly for schools serving predominantly black and Hispanic students.
A third study looks at the process by which schools adopt an SRO. They interview nearly 200 participants in two school districts which adopted SROs in response to the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. They observe the unique importance of an advocacy coalition formed over time, with personal relationships between the sheriff and district leadership, and shared core beliefs on safety and perceptions of law enforcement.
The final study moves beyond the unit of the school to investigate the impact of community-level crime and violence on schools and their students. They use unique administrative data in Chicago to first describe the distribution of exposure to violence across schools, and then to study the consequences of repeated exposure to violent crime near the students’ homes on student attendance, in-school misbehavior, suspension, and arrest.
Our discussants will jointly provide academic and practitioner perspectives on this topic.